Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative
The world seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief as midnight passed and we said good-bye to 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic, uncontrolled fires across the globe, and violence and police brutality against minorities have all taken a heavy toll on humanity and on the planet. Hopes are high that 2021 will be a better year. In particular, there is hope that with the approval and distribution of vaccines for COVID-19, the worst of the pandemic will soon be over.
The challenges to human security spotlighted in 2020, however, did not disappear with the changing of the calendar year. Our global unpreparedness for healthcare and humanitarian crises, social and economic inequities, climate change, and arms-related suffering are among the problems we collectively need to address. The insurrection by Trump supporters at the US Capitol on January 6 is just one stark example of the importance of shifting the status quo.
Now is a good time to revisit the humanitarian disarmament community’s open letter on COVID-19, launched in July of last year, calling for the establishment of a “new normal.” The letter, which has been signed by more than 265 civil society organizations, argues that states, international organizations, and civil society should be guided by the principles of humanitarian disarmament in building back a better world. Humanitarian disarmament is premised on preventing and remediating arms-related human suffering and environmental harm; ensuring victims and advocates are included in decision-making spaces; providing survivors with access to the care they need; and promoting international cooperation to operationalize these goals.
Since the letter was written, numerous states have led the way towards realizing this vision by ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, paving the way for its entry into force on January 22. States have also reaffirmed their commitment to universalization and full implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty and Convention on Cluster Munitions and made plans to resume work towards the adoption of a new political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Much work remains, though. Humanitarian disarmament treaties have yet to achieve universalization. Progress towards an internationally binding instrument on the development and use of killer robots is uncertain. Several states still have landmine and cluster munition remnants to clear, and there continues to be use of these weapons by states and non-state armed groups. There have been few, if any, globally coordinated efforts to remediate the environmental impacts of armed conflict. Victim assistance programs require additional resources to provide affected individuals and communities with adequate health care and social services, and more attention should be paid to the specific needs of people of different genders, ages, abilities, and ethnicities. Survivors, victims’ advocates, and civil society still have only limited access to decision-making spaces.
None of these are insurmountable problems, but they call for joint action informed by the principles of prevention and remediation; non-discrimination, inclusion, and accessibility; and international cooperation. These humanitarian disarmament principles can also be applied effectively to address other challenges to human security illuminated by the pandemic. We should collectively heed the call of the open letter to follow the lead of humanitarian disarmament and collaborate to build a “new normal” for the new year and beyond.