Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: A Renewed Sense of Purpose

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has understandably dominated headlines and the attention of the entire humanitarian disarmament community. The conflict has seen the use of banned weapons, including cluster munitions and antipersonnel landmines, and there is a renewed sense of purpose to the work of ensuring compliance with internationally binding prohibitions. The conflict has also underscored the impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and highlighted the importance and relevance of adopting a political declaration on this topic. In addition, weapons capable of autonomous targeting have been deployed in Ukraine, making more urgent than ever the development of legally binding rules regulating the use of such systems.

At the same time, the humanitarian disarmament community has continued its advocacy on these issues outside of the Ukraine context, including through a Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) meeting and, after a two-year pandemic hiatus, the resumption of negotiations of the explosive weapons political declaration.  

Negotiations on an explosive weapons political declaration resumed in
Geneva in early April after a two-year pandemic hiatus. Credit: INEW, 2022  

In case you missed it:

  • The humanitarian disarmament community continues to document and condemn the use of weapons causing serious humanitarian concerns in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which commenced on February 24. The International Network on Explosive Weapons warned of grave risks of death and injury to civilians from the use of explosive weapons in and around populated areas and called upon parties to the conflict to uphold international humanitarian law and to protect civilians. The United Kingdom as president of the Convention on Cluster Munitions issued a statement expressing concerns about reports of the use of cluster munitions in Ukraine. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots expressed concerns over Russia’s use of a weapon system with autonomous targeting capabilities and called upon states to move forward to develop specific legal rules regulating the use of autonomy in weapon systems. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munitions Coalition condemned Russia’s use of antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions in Ukraine and called for the immediate cessation of their use. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) expressed condemnation of Russia’s threat of the use of nuclear weapons. More reports, statements, and commentary can be found on the Humanitarian Disarmament website’s Ukraine War and Disarmament resources page.
  • On March 7, ICAN published the ICAN Media Guide: Unpacking Nuclear Weapons Jargon. The guide aims to help journalists ask questions to ensure the provision of clear and direct information about nuclear weapons, nuclear threats, and nuclear warfare. The advice in the guide responds to Russia’s rhetoric on nuclear weapons following its invasion of Ukraine, but it is more generally applicable to other situations.
  • The CCW Group of Governmental Experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems met in Geneva from March 7-11. Russia resisted the opening of the meeting and repeatedly blocked basic procedural decisions in the first two days. At that point, the Brazilian chair changed the meeting to an informal format, ceasing recording and livestreaming of the meeting. During the last three days, substantive discussions revealed three main proposals for ways forward: development of voluntary good practices on autonomous weapons, a manual on the application of international humanitarian law to autonomous weapons, and a roadmap for establishing a new binding protocol on autonomous weapons. Although still not universal, a commitment from a coalition of states to develop binding rules governing such weapons continues to grow. More details about the meeting can be found on the Stop Killer Robots blog here, and in the Reaching Critical Will CCW Report.
  • On March 23, the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), becoming the 60th state party to the treaty.
  • The Philippines ratified the Arms Trade Treaty on March 24, becoming the 111th state party to the treaty.
  • After releasing the revised draft political declaration on strengthening the protection of civilians from use of explosive weapons in populated areas on March 3, Ireland held consultations on the draft from April 6-8. Support for a strong declaration continues to grow although Ireland plans to issue one more draft in an effort to resolve lingering differences among states. It expects to hold the final meeting of the process in late May or early June.  For more information on the consultations, see Reaching Critical Will’s site.

Working group meetings and the second preparatory meeting for the Eighth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty will take place from April 26-29 in a hybrid format. The First Meeting of the States Parties to the TPNW has been scheduled to take place in Vienna from June 21-23, 2022.

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