Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: Momentum toward Change

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

Close to halfway into 2020, it has become increasingly clear that “business as usual” has created the conditions for an unsafe, unjust, and unsustainable world. At the same time, news from around the world gives hope that momentum is building for transformational changes. The humanitarian disarmament community has celebrated several important achievements so far this year, including movement toward a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas; progress toward entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; and the selection of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots as the winner of the City of Ypres Peace Prize.

In case you missed it:

  • Belize and Lesotho became the 37th and 38th states to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on May 19 and June 8, respectively. Only 12 more ratifications are required to bring the treaty into force.
  • Nuclear armed states faced criticism from humanitarian disarmament advocates over their nuclear policies.
    • On May 23, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) released a statement strongly criticizing the United States’ reported consideration of conducting new nuclear tests. ICAN commented: “A Trump nuclear test would cross a line no nation thought the US would ever cross again, and is threatening the health and safety of all people.”
    • In a June 1 submission to the Human Rights Committee, the Lawyers Committee for Nuclear Policy and Western States Legal Foundation argued that Russia’s policy on the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons violates the right to life. Just a day later, Russia reportedly released new rules on the use of nuclear weapons in war, adding two scenarios in which the country would approve first use of nuclear weapons. The Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, will review Russia’s implementation of the covenant during its upcoming 129th session.
  • At the May 27 United Nations Security Council open debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his “deep conviction that machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement must be prohibited by international law.” In his 2020 Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Guterres urged states, with the “active participation” of the United Nations and civil society, to decide “quickly” on “agreed limitations and obligations . . . that should be applied to autonomous weapons.” According to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, this is the first time since 2013 that the report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict has explicitly warned of the dangers of killer robots. The secretary-general also called for states to develop and endorse a political commitment to “avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas” and for states not party to the Mine Ban Treaty to “join it without delay and to ensure that those weapons are never used.”
  • The Convention on Cluster Munitions celebrated the 12th anniversary of the adoption of its final text on May 30, 2008. In recognition of this day, the convention’s Implementation Support Unit published an infographic summarizing the achievements of the convention to date.
  • On June 2, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic released a Q&A briefing on a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The government of Ireland is currently preparing a second draft of such a political declaration based on written comments submitted last month. They hope to resume face-to-face consultations on the declaration as soon as possible.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released a checklist on June 3 to guide states on the domestic measures needed to properly implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions. States can refer to the checklist to determine whether their legal, regulatory, and administrative framework sufficiently meets the requirements for implementation under Article 9.
  • On June 3, the Arms Control Association and Reaching Critical Will jointly hosted the first in what will be a series of monthly webinars in the lead-up to the postponed 10th Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The series of webinars will explore key issues related to the NPT and possible solutions.
  • On June 9, the City of Ypres announced the selection of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots as the laureate of its triennial Peace Prize. Residents of Ypres can vote to select the winner of the Peace Prize from a shortlist of finalists, and the city particularly encourages youth to vote after studying the finalists’ work in school. This year, about 90% of the votes were cast by secondary school students. The prize will be formally presented to the Campaign later this year.
  • The Hiroshima Prefecture, in partnership with ICAN, put out a call for applications for the 2020 Hiroshima-ICAN Academy, a training program designed to teach young activists the tools they need to become effective advocates for the elimination of nuclear weapons. More details about the program and the application can be found here. The deadline to apply is June 26, 17:00 (Japan Standard Time).

COVID-19 has delayed some events, notably the Convention on Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems, which has been postponed from June to August. Nevertheless, some diplomacy has continued digitally, and in June, states parties will hold Mine Ban Treaty and Convention on Cluster Munitions meetings online. More resources on humanitarian disarmament and COVID-19 can be found on this resources page. Please share your examples of creative advocacy and diplomacy work and events by sending an email to