Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: Honoring Humanitarian Workers

Bonnie Docherty and Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

The Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI) condemns the June 8 attack on the HALO Trust mine clearance team in northern Afghanistan and expresses its condolences to the family and friends of the victims. The work carried out by the HALO Trust team as well as other deminers is a vital component of the humanitarian disarmament mission to prevent arms-inflicted human suffering and environmental harm. This shocking and unacceptable act of violence generated outrage across the humanitarian disarmament and international communities, and statements condemning the attack and expressing solidarity came from the UN Security Council, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition, Human Rights Watch, and the International Rescue Committee, among others.

Deminers from The HALO Trust clear bomblets in the Shomali Plain, Afghanistan, March 2002. Bonnie Docherty, now ACCPI director, was grateful for the information and hospitality the deminers showed her team during a 2002 trip to investigate cluster munition use. Credit: Bonnie Docherty/Human Rights Watch, 2002.

Reports released this past month offered further reminders of the need to continue humanitarian disarmament work despite the challenges. These reports document the negative impacts of armed conflict and explosive weapons use, the increase in nuclear weapons spending, and lessons learned from working during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

In case you missed it:

  • The UN Security Council held a virtual debate on the Secretary-General’s report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict on May 25. Several members of the Council as well as other states expressed concerns over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Ireland, noting that significant progress had been made towards a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, affirmed its commitment to finalizing a text that will lead to lasting change. A more detailed summary of the debate can be found on the International Network on Explosive Weapons website here.
  • On May 25, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) released its report A Decade of Explosive Violence Harm, documenting the impact of explosive weapons use from 2011-2020. In that time period, AOAV recorded 357,370 deaths and injuries from explosive weapons use, 73 percent of which were civilian. When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, 91 percent of casualties were civilians.
  • A new report published by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on June 7 reveals that the nine nuclear-armed states spent a total of US$72.6 billion on nuclear weapons in 2020. Adjusted for inflation, the sum represents an increase in spending of US$1.4 billion from 2019. Defense contractors received US$27.7 billion in nuclear weapons-related contracts and in turn spent US$117 million on lobbying and paid up to US$10 million to think tanks.
  • On June 7, the informal Humanitarian Disarmament and COVID-19 Working Group issued the report Lockdown Diplomacy, which presents the findings of its survey about the effects of the pandemic on the work of humanitarian disarmament practitioners. The report summarizes respondents’ reflections on 2020, offers recommendations and principles to guide future work, and raises questions for states, civil society, and others to consider going forward.  
  • ICAN published the report A Non-Nuclear Alliance: Why NATO Members Should Join the UN Ban on Nuclear Weapons on June 10, ahead of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit on June 14. The report offers NATO member states a roadmap for achieving their stated goal of global nuclear disarmament. Highlighting changing global norms and the widespread support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in NATO countries, the report corrects misconceptions about the TPNW and urges NATO member states to make NATO a “non-nuclear alliance.”

Intersessional meetings of the Nineteenth Meeting of States Parties of the Mine Ban Treaty are scheduled to be held virtually from June 22-24. The meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems has been postponed, although online informal meetings will be held June 28-July 2.

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