Civil Society Speaks Out on Need for and Possibilities of Humanitarian Disarmament

At a session of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, on October 13, 2022, nongovernmental organizations presented statements on a range of topics, including the arms trade, autonomous weapons, cluster munitions, landmines, nuclear weapons, and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. 

Raluca Muresan of Control Arms delivered the following joint civil society statement on humanitarian disarmament. The statement was endorsed by 131 nongovernmental organizations, including 5 global campaigns, which are listed below. 

Raluca Muresan delivers joint civil society statement on humanitarian disarmament at First Committee. Credit: Taniel Yusef, 2022.

The devasting effects of the war in Ukraine have dominated this year’s disarmament news, but there were also great achievements in the world of diplomacy and norm-setting. In the end, 2022 demonstrated both the need for and the possibilities of humanitarian disarmament.

This people-centered approach to governing weapons seeks to prevent and remediate the kind of arms-inflicted human suffering and environmental harm that has been evident every day in Ukraine and in many other conflicts that continue to rage around the world. 

In Ukraine, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has caused the majority of the conflict’s more than 15,000 civilian casualties, according to UN figures. It has also leveled cities and towns and led to widespread displacement. Cluster munition attacks on residential neighborhoods have killed and injured civilians at the time of attack and left unexploded submunitions behind. 

There has also been documented use of incendiary weapons and antipersonnel landmines. Attacks as well as damaged and abandoned materiel have led to a range of environmental harm. Conventional weapons have flowed into the conflict with a speed and volume that simply has no precedent. 

Meanwhile, Russia has repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine and its allies, despite condemnation from around the world.  

These reports underscore the need for greater efforts on the humanitarian disarmament front. Now more than ever, states must comply with their international obligations with absolute rigor.  They must also promote, strengthen, and universalize existing disarmament law and create new law where appropriate.

Despite these challenges, 2022 has also seen moments of hope that show progress is possible in the development and implementation of international norms. 

For example, states finalized a new political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas in June, and Ireland will host an endorsement ceremony in November. The document, which goes beyond restating existing international humanitarian law, commits states to strengthen the protection of civilians from the humanitarian consequences of this method of war. 

A few days later, the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons demonstrated the viability of that treaty, adopting an action plan with strong steps for implementing its humanitarian obligations, including on victim assistance and environmental remediation. 

This month, the UN General Assembly’s Sixth Committee is expected to adopt the groundbreaking Principles on Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflicts.

In addition, the Mine Ban Treaty is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its adoption, and the Convention on Cluster Munition has proven its worth by preventing states parties from transferring cluster munitions to their ally Ukraine. Across humanitarian disarmament fora, there has been greater attention to gender perspectives, including the relationship with the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda.

More work remains to be done. Words on paper need to be turned into practice in conflict zones like Ukraine, Yemen, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. In addition, there have been state threats to civil society involvement in international diplomatic forums, such as during talks on autonomous weapons systems at the Convention on Conventional Weapons and at Open-ended Working Group on Information and Communication Technology. The COVID-19 pandemic also continues to close civil society space. Furthermore, as discussed in last year’s First Committee statement on humanitarian disarmament, more attention should be paid to issues of race and intersectionality. 

Despite the tremendous challenges we face, 2022 underscores the value and promise of a humanitarian approach to disarmament, which other speakers will elaborate on in their statements today. 

Thank you. 

Supporting global campaigns:

  1. Control Arms
  2. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
  3. International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition
  4. International Network on Explosive Weapons
  5. Stop Killer Robots

Other supporting nongovernmental organizations:

  1. Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy
  2. Action for Women & Children Concern
  3. Action on Armed Violence
  4. African Council of Religious Leaders–Religions for Peace 
  5. Airwars
  6. Amnesty International
  7. Amputee Selfhelp Network Uganda
  8. Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
  9. Aotearoa New Zealand Campaign to Stop Killer Robots 
  10. Aotearoa New Zealand Campaign on Military Spending 
  11. Aotearoa New Zealand Joint Working Group on Landmines and Cluster Munitions
  12. Aotearoa New Zealand Network on Militarisation of Children and Young Persons
  13. Aotearoa New Zealand Network on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas
  14. Aotearoa New Zealand Women, Peace and Security Network
  15. Arab Human Security Network
  16. ASMAR Human Security Organization
  17. Assistance Mission for Africa 
  18. Associazione Italiana Vittime Civili di Guerra 
  19. Aurat Foundation
  20. Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines
  21. Campaign Against Arms Trade
  22. Campaign to Stop Killer Robots Activists Network–Hungary
  23. Campaña Colombiana Contra Minas
  24. Canadian Pugwash Group
  25. Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights
  26. Center for International Affairs Studies, Universidad de Buenos Aires
  27. Center for International Security and Policy, Kazakhstan.
  28. Center for Peace Education
  29. Center for Political Ecology
  30. Centre Delàs d’estudis per la Pau
  31. Centre for Supporters of Human Rights
  32. Centro de Estudios Ecuménicos–México 
  33. CIVIC
  34. Committee of 100 in Finland
  35. Conflict and Environment Observatory 
  36. CRISPAL-AFRIQUE
  37. Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft–Vereinigte KriegsdienstgegnerInnen (DFG-VK)
  38. Disarmament and Arms Control–South Africa
  39. Droits Humains Sans Frontières
  40. Every Casualty Counts
  41. Facing Finance
  42. Fight For Humanity
  43. Foundation For Environmental Rights, Advocacy & Development (FENRAD Nigeria)
  44. Fundación Cultura de Paz (Foundation for a Culture of Peace)
  45. FundiPau (Foundation for Peace)
  46. FUNPADEM, Costa Rica (Foundation for Peace and Democracy)
  47. Gemeinsam gegen Landminen–GGL-Austria (Together against Landmines-Austria)
  48. Global Thought Mx
  49. Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic
  50. Humanity & Inclusion 
  51. ICAN Aotearoa New Zealand
  52. Indian Institute for Peace, Disarmament & Environmental Protection 
  53. Institute of International Studies, Universitas Gadjah Mada
  54. Instituto Sou da Paz
  55. InterAgency Institute
  56. International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons
  57. International Committee for Robot Arms Control
  58. Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
  59. Italian Campaign to Ban Landmines
  60. Jesuit Refugee Service
  61. Kingston and St Andrew Action Forum
  62. KNOW NUKES TOKYO
  63. Kurdistan Human Rights Association-Geneva
  64. Kurdistan Organizations’ Network to Abolish Nuclear and Mass Destruction Weapons
  65. Kurdistan without Genocide
  66. Landmines Resource Center Lebanon
  67. Mécanisme pour l’initiative de la Recherche de la Paix et le Développement (MI-RPD)
  68. Medact
  69. Mines Action Canada
  70. Mines Advisory Group
  71. Minnesota Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions/MCBLCM 
  72. Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre (Australian Province)
  73. Mwatana for Human Rights
  74. Namibia NGO Forum Trust (NANGOF Trust)
  75. Naturefriends Greece
  76. Nepal Campaign to Ban Landmines
  77. Noble Delta Women for Peace and Development International
  78. Nonviolence International 
  79. Nonviolence International Canada
  80. Norwegian Peoples Aid
  81. Norwegian Peace Association
  82. Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
  83. Nuclear Disarmament Group, Scottish Parliament
  84. Organization Against Weapons of Mass Destruction in Kurdistan‎‏
  85. Organization of the Justice Campaign
  86. PAX
  87. Pax Christi-Asia Pacific
  88. Pax Christi Ireland
  89. Pax Christi Philippines
  90. Pax Christi Vlaanderen.
  91. Peace Boat
  92. Peace Angel Project
  93. Peace Movement Aotearoa
  94. Peoples Federation for National Peace and Development (PEFENAP)
  95. Plataforma CIPÓ (Brazil)
  96. Project Ploughshares
  97. PROTECTION
  98. PSALM: Proud Students Against Landmines and Cluster Bombs
  99. Reverse the Trend
  100. SafeGround
  101. Science for Peace, University of Toronto
  102. Security Research and Information Centre
  103. Seguridad Humana en América Latina y el Caribe (SEHLAC)
  104. Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES) of the Jesuits
  105. Soka Gakkai International
  106. Somali Human Rights Association (SOHRA)
  107. South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms (SSANSA)
  108. Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD)
  109. Survivors Recovery and Rehabilitation Organization
  110. Sustainable Peace and Development Organization
  111. Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (Svenska Freds- och Skiljedomsföreningen)
  112. Syrian Network for Human Rights
  113. Transcend Philipinas
  114. transform.at
  115. Uganda Landmine Survivors Association
  116. United Against Inhumanity
  117. United Nations Association of Sweden
  118. United Nations Association–UK
  119. Virtual Planet Africa
  120. West Virginia Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions
  121. White Helmets
  122. Women for Peace and Democracy Nepal
  123. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
  124. World Federalist Movement–Canada
  125. World without Chemical and Biological Weapons 
  126. Yemen Mine Awareness Association
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