Civil Society Statement on Humanitarian Disarmament at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee

At a session of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, on October 11, 2023, nongovernmental organizations presented statements on a range of topics, including the arms trade, autonomous weapons, cluster munitions, incendiary weapons, landmines, nuclear weapons, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and the protection of the environment in armed conflict. 

Matthew Bolton of the International Disarmament Institute at Pace University delivered the following joint civil society statement on humanitarian disarmament. The statement was endorsed by 97 nongovernmental organizations, including 5 global campaigns, which are listed below. 

Matthew Bolton of Pace University delivers the joint civil society statement on humanitarian disarmament at First Committee on October 11, 2023. Credit: Seth Shelden, 2023.

This statement is read on behalf of 97 civil society organizations and coalitions from around the world.

Humanitarian disarmament puts people at the heart of efforts to govern weapons. Specifically, it aims to prevent and remediate arms-inflicted human suffering and environmental harm through the establishment and implementation of norms.

Humanitarian disarmament has accomplished much since last year’s First Committee. On November 18, 2022, 83 countries signed the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, which seeks to strengthen protections for civilians from this method of war.

In December 2022, the UN General Assembly welcomed the International Law Commission’s Principles on the Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflicts. These new standards bolster environmental protection before, during, and after armed conflicts and, by extension, the protection of civilians.

Momentum to negotiate a legally binding instrument on autonomous weapons systems has increased in 2023, with 100 countries now expressing support for this goal, including through the Belén Communiqué and the CARICOM Declaration. This momentum bodes well for meeting the UN secretary-general’s urgent call to adopt a treaty with prohibitions and regulations on autonomous weapons systems by 2026.

In addition, states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons have built on the progress made at their First Meeting of States Parties as they prepare for their Second Meeting at the end of November. They are discussing how best to turn the treaty’s words into action, including regarding core humanitarian measures such as victim assistance and environmental remediation.

But the past year has also been a reminder that we cannot become complacent. New use of antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions in Ukraine is challenging the strict norms established by the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Such developments heighten the importance of publicly condemning both the use and activities resulting in the use of such weapons. They show the need to universalize these and other humanitarian disarmament treaties.

In addition, there have been concerning changes to states’ methods of working, particularly with respect to civil society engagement as we emerge from the pandemic. Humanitarian disarmament emerged from effective partnerships, and much of its success is driven by close collaborations among states, civil society groups, international organizations, and affected individuals and communities. It is critical to humanitarian disarmament’s ongoing success that these groups work together in a spirit of trust and transparency. States need to involve survivors, civil society groups, international organizations, and other stakeholders who bring valuable expertise and experience to the table.

Finally, all those involved in humanitarian disarmament should ensure their work, in process and substance, is inclusive. It should take into account diversity and intersectionality and address racial and gender discrimination.

In conclusion, we urge states to embrace the principles of humanitarian disarmament and negotiate new instruments and implement and interpret existing ones through an approach that is cooperative, inclusive, and focused on the people it aims to protect.

Thank you.

Supporting Global Campaigns

Control Arms
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition
International Network on Explosive Weapons
Stop Killer Robots

Other Supporting Civil Society Organizations

Action on Armed Violence
Amnesty International
Anfal Story’s Organization
Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
Aotearoa New Zealand Campaign on Military Spending
Aotearoa New Zealand Network on Explosive Weapons
Arab Human Security Network
Arms Information Centre (RIB e.V.)–Germany
Article 36
Association of Defending the Anfal Victims and Their Families
Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal (NCBL)
Cameroon Youths and Students Forum for Peace (CAMYOSFOP)
Campagna Italiana contro le mine (ItCBL)
Campaign Against Arms Trade
Campaña Colombiana Contra Minas
Conflict and Environment Observatory

Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft–Vereinigte
KriegsdienstgegnerInnen (German Peace Society–
United War Resisters)
Diakonia International Humanitarian Law Centre
Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Balamand
Forum on Disarmament and Development of Sri Lanka
Foundation for Peace and Democracy (Costa Rica)
Frauennetzwerk für Frieden e.V. (Women’s Network for Peace, Germany)
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Glokala Sjuhärad Association
Halabja Chemical Victims’ Society
Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic
Hastings Against War
Human Rights Watch
Humanity & Inclusion
ICAN Aotearoa New Zealand
ICAN France
InterAgency Institute
International Peace Research Association
International Studies, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia
Iona Community
Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Italian Unione Scienziati per il Disarmo (USPID)
Jesuit Refugee Service
Kurdish Organizations Network Coalition for the International Criminal Court
Kurdistan Human Rights Association–Geneva (KMMK-G)
Kurdistan Organizations Network to Abolish Nuclear and Mass Destruction Weapons
Kurdistan without Genocide
Legacies of War
Life Campaign to Abolish the Death Sentence in Kurdistan
Manawa OrganizationfFor Martyrs & Anfal’s Inquiry
Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia)
Mines Action Canada
Mines Advisory Group
Noble Delta Women for Peace and Development International
Nonviolence International
Nonviolence International Southeast Asia
Norwegian People’s Aid
Organization against Weapons of Mass Destruction in Kurdistan
Organization of Defending Mass Graves Victims’ Rights
Organization of the Justice Campaign
Organization of Landmine Survivors and Amputees in Rwanda

Pax Christi International
Pax Christi USA
Peace Movement Aotearoa
Perú por el Desarme (Peru for Disarmament)
Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines (PCBL)
Project Ploughshares
Rete Italiana Pace Disarmo (Italian Network on Peace and Disarmament)
Secure Scotland
Seguridad Humana en América Latina y el Caribe (SEHLAC)
Shadow World Investigations–UK
Soka Gakkai International
Stop Killer Robots Aotearoa New Zealand Campaign
Topzawa: A Magazine Specialized in Genocide and Anfal Issues
Trident Ploughshares
United Against Inhumanity
United Nations Association–UK
Virtual Planet Africa

West Virginia Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Bombs/Proud Students Against Landmines and Cluster Bombs
WILPF Scottish Branch
Women for Peace and Democracy Nepal
Women, Peace and Security Network Aotearoa New Zealand
World Council of Churches
A World without Chemical and Biological Weapons
World Without Wars and Violence, Greece
Vision GRAM–International (Canada, DR Congo)
XR Peace (UK)
Youth Nuclear Peace Summit