Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: New Year, Old Pandemic Problems

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative 

After two years, the COVID-19 pandemic is still causing significant disruptions to disarmament events and daily life. In January, three major disarmament meetings were postponed yet again: the 10th Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), and the final negotiations on a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Revised dates have not been settled on. Nevertheless, despite the pandemic, new publications, UN debates, and celebrations of a TPNW milestone have kept these issues in the spotlight. 

Picture of rubble after a bombing.
After the Bombing, a new podcast series from the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), explores the reverberating effects of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Photo shows a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, after a 2015 US airstrike. Credit: Médecins Sans Frontières

In case you missed it: 

  • On December 23, Peru became the 59th state party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). 
  • The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and PAX released a new report in the Don’t Bank on the Bomb series, Rejecting Risk: 101 Polices against Nuclear Weapons, on January 19. The report highlights 101 financial institutions that have taken steps to exclude nuclear weapons producers from their investments, including 59 institutions whose public policies are comprehensive in scope and application. 
  • January 22 was the first anniversary of the entry into force of the TPNW, and communities and organizations around the globe celebrated the occasion in myriad ways. Some local groups, for example in New York and Wisconsin, held rallies to mark the day. The Chesapeake chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility delivered certificates of appreciation to the Washington, D.C., embassies of states parties to the TPNW. The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament organized a series of events, including a debate in Scottish Parliament and webinars about the treaty. The Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations issued a statement urging the Japanese government to ratify the treaty.
  • On January 25, the United Nations Security Council hosted an open debate on the topic of “War in Cities: Protection of Civilians in Urban Settings.” In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres lamented the numbers of civilians affected by conflict in urban areas and drew attention to the data showing that when explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 90 percent of those killed are civilians. Several states reaffirmed their support for the development of a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. A recording of the debate and links to related documents can be found on UN Web TV here.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross released a new report, Explosive Weapons with Wide Area Effects: A Deadly Choice in Populated Areas, on January 26. The report analyzes the issue of explosive weapons with wide area effects, documenting the humanitarian impacts of their use; their technical characteristics; applicable international humanitarian law; and military policies and practices in relation to their use. It concludes with recommendations for protecting civilians by avoiding the use of such weapons. 
  • ICAN released No Place to Hide: Nuclear Weapons and the Collapse of Health Care Systems on February 10. The report demonstrates how the detonation of a single nuclear bomb would overwhelm a city’s healthcare system, by modeling a “100-kiloton airburst nuclear explosion over major cities in each of the nine nuclear-armed states and Germany, which hosts U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory.” 
  • On February 10, the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) launched a new podcast series, After the Bombing. The first episode brings together survivors and humanitarian workers to discuss the effects of such weapons on the human body and discusses INEW’s hopes for the contents of the new political declaration to protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

States parties to the Arms Trade Treaty is holding a series of meetings for the Eighth Conference of States Parties in a hybrid format from February 15-18. There are four days of working group meetings on effective treaty implementation, treaty universalization, and transparency and reporting. The first preparatory meeting for the Conference will take place on February 18. In addition, the next Convention on Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems is scheduled to meet at the United Nations in Geneva from March 7 to 11.  

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