Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: Ratifications, Robots, and Reported Cluster Munition Use

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

The past month has been headlined by new treaty ratifications, a diplomatic meeting on killer robots, and the start of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security. In addition, reported new use of cluster munitions provides a timely reminder of the importance of humanitarian disarmament law.

In case you missed it:

  • On September 15, Saint Lucia became the 110th state party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
  • Support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) continues to grow. On September 21, fifty-six former world leaders of US-allied nations wrote an open letter calling upon their states to “reject any role for nuclear weapons in our defence” and to “join the treaty.”
  • In the past few weeks, Malta, Malaysia, and Tuvalu ratified the TPNW, becoming the 45th, 46th, and 47th state parties to the treaty. The treaty needs only three more ratifications to trigger entry into force.
  • From September 21-25, the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) held its first session of the 2020 Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems. Some delegates attended the in-person meeting at the United Nations in Geneva, while others joined via an online platform. Participants generally agreed on the importance of maintaining meaningful human control over the use of force, and a significant number of states called for a new treaty on these emerging weapons systems. Some states continued to argue, however, that existing international law is sufficient. According to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, if negotiations have not begun by the CCW Review Conference in 2021, another forum will be needed to discuss the issue and negotiate a treaty. A more detailed report on the meeting can be found on the Reaching Critical Will website here.
  • Reaching Critical Will published a First Committee Briefing Book ahead of the UN First Committee meeting, which began on October 6 and will continue to take place over the course of the month. The briefing book provides information on the most pressing disarmament issues, along with recommendations for state action.
A woman looks at fire and smoke from oil wells set ablaze by ISIS militants. Credit: Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters
A woman looks at fire and smoke from oil wells set ablaze by ISIS militants. Credit: Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters
  • On September 30, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) and the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) held a webinar to launch their report, Confronting Conflict Pollution: Principles for Assisting Victims of Toxic Remnants of War. The report draws upon humanitarian disarmament, human rights, and international environmental law to identify 14 principles designed to address the immediate and ongoing needs of victims of toxic remnants of war and to ensure they can realize their human rights. More information about the report and webinar can be found here.
  • Humanitarian disarmament and human rights groups have condemned the reported use of cluster munitions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on October 3-4 and called upon Armenia and Azerbaijan to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Amnesty International identified “Israeli-made M095 DPICM cluster munitions that appear to have been fired by Azerbaijani forces” in neighborhoods of Stepanakert.
  • In an address to the UN First Committee on October 13, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, examined the impacts of COVID-19 on disarmament. She called for “global solidarity” to address the pandemic and to promote disarmament and international security. She concluded: “I hope you will all agree that now is the time to put humans at the centre of our security debates.”
  • At the same First Committee session, 17 nongovernmental organizations presented statements about a range of disarmament issues. The final intervention spotlighted the civil society open letter on COVID-19 and humanitarian disarmament, which has been signed by more than 255 organizations and remains open for signature.
  • Civil society held its annual Humanitarian Disarmament Forum from October 19-21. This year’s forum, held online, focused on race and intersectionality.

The rest of October will be dominated by First Committee meetings. The committee is conducting its work through a general debate, with virtual informal meetings on specific topics. In November, states will convene for the year’s second CCW GGE on lethal autonomous weapons systems, the annual meeting of states parties for the CCW and the Mine Ban Treaty, and the Second Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The website continues to post resources on humanitarian disarmament and COVID-19 on this page.

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