Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: First Committee Finishes, Disarmament Marathon Continues

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative 

Over much of the past month, advocates and diplomats in the arms control sphere focused their attention on the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, which ended in a flurry of resolution votes. Nevertheless, work in other forums continued as the annual end-of-the-year disarmament marathon moved along. Highlights included reflections on an environment and armed conflict milestone, the launch of incendiary weapons open letter, and the release of the annual Landmine Monitor.  

Landmine Monitor 2021 cover. Credit: International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 2021

In case you missed it: 

  • This year’s First Committee, which opened October 4, concluded on November 4. States adopted more than a dozen resolutions on nuclear weapons as well as important resolutions on other weapons. A majority of states, 123, voted in favor of a resolution supporting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, although the nuclear-armed states continued to voice their opposition to the treaty. In addition, 140 states voted in favor of a resolution on the implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, with China voting in favor of the resolution for the first time, and 162 states voted for a parallel resolution on the Mine Ban Treaty. States that abstained or voted against these resolutions typically cited national security concerns as the primary explanation for their vote. States also voiced support for addressing the harms caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and for establishing legally binding rules on autonomous weapon systems, although they did not adopt formal resolutions on these topics. Detailed updates and analysis on First Committee can be found in Reaching Critical Will’s First Committee Monitor.
  • On October 13, the government of Norway released a statement publicly committing to participate as an observer in the First Meeting of States Parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which is scheduled for March 2022. Norway is the first North Atlantic Treaty Organization state to make such a commitment.
  • UK Ambassador Aidan Liddle, president of the Tenth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, met informally with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on October 21. Of the 10 states in ASEAN, only two have ratified the convention and one is a signatory. The meeting provided an opportunity to discuss universalization and implementation of the convention. 
  • On November 2, Control Arms published the Arms Trade Treaty Regional Actor Study. The study examines activities undertaken by regional organizations towards universalization and implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty and sets out lessons learned to improve engagement by these organizations. 
  • An open letter from healthcare professionals and burn survivor organizations calls on governments to strengthen international law on the use of incendiary weapons, specifically by closing the loopholes in Protocol III to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). These groups can relate to the suffering of incendiary weapons victims because they have treated or experienced burns themselves. The letter, which was launched in early November, is open for signature here
  • November 6 marked the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, which was first recognized 20 years ago. While the impacts of conflict on the environment have increased during that period, so too has awareness of the problem and efforts to address it. Reflecting on the past two decades, Doug Weir of the Conflict and Environment Observatory wrote, “Conflicts around the world continue to devastate ecosystems and lives, the environment remains under-prioritised in policy making and response, and to some its protection is still viewed as a luxury…. But there is no escaping the breadth of the movement that has been created, its appetite for change, nor its momentum.”
  • On November 8, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) published a working paper with its recommendations for the upcoming Sixth Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons. The ICRC calls on high contracting parties to agree, inter alia, to negotiate a new CCW protocol on autonomous weapons systems; hold dedicated discussions on Protocol III and approve a plan for future work to examine incendiary weapons and weapons with incidental incendiary effects; discuss ways to address the humanitarian impacts of mines other than antipersonnel mines; and agree on means to monitor military applications of new developments in science and technology. 
  • On November 10, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines published its Landmine Monitor 2021, which reviews the status of implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty from mid-2020 through October 2021. Although 169 states, including 11 non-signatories, voted in favor of the UN General Assembly resolution calling for full universalization and implementation of the treaty, the Monitor found that challenges remain to achieving these goals. The Monitor confirmed new use of landmines in the reporting period by one state not party to the treaty, Myanmar, and by non-state armed groups in six other countries. While progress was made on stockpile destruction and clearance in the reporting period, two states parties remain in violation of their obligation to destroy their stockpiles, and 60 states, including 33 states parties, continue to have areas contaminated by antipersonnel mines. Significant gaps also remain in the implementation of victim assistance obligations, with only 14 of 34 states parties with significant numbers of mine victims having victim assistance or related plans in place. 
  • The Nineteenth Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty was scheduled to be held in The Hague, the Netherlands from November 15-19. Due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, the in-person meeting was changed to a virtual format only a few a couple days before it started. 

Much of December will be dedicated to CCW meetings at the UN in Geneva. The third session of the CCW Group of Governmental Experts on lethal autonomous weapon systems is scheduled to take place from December 2-3 and 6-8. Annual meetings on Protocol V and Amended Protocol II will be held on December 9 and 10.  CCW high contracting parties will convene from December 13-17 for the CCW’s Sixth Review Conference. Looking further ahead, the Tenth Review Conference to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, originally scheduled for 2020, will be held in January 2022.

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