Open Letter on COVID-19 and Humanitarian Disarmament


Open Letter from Civil Society

Opened for Signature June 2020

This letter argues that humanitarian disarmament can lead the way to an improved post-pandemic world and calls on states, international organizations, and civil society to follow its lead to create a “new normal.” It is open for signature by civil society organizations through the form below.

This letter is also available in Spanish and French.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy human and economic toll and shattered lives in many countries. The pandemic has also underscored that global solutions should be used to address global problems, in the current crisis and after it ends. Now is the moment to reflect on the world as it is and consider a better alternative for the future. A “new normal” should go beyond the field of public health to deal with other matters of ongoing international concern, including the humanitarian consequences of arms and armed conflict as well as peace and security more broadly.

Humanitarian disarmament, an approach to governing weapons that puts people first, can help lead the way to an improved post-pandemic world. Humanitarian disarmament seeks to prevent and remediate arms-inflicted human suffering and environmental damage through the establishment and implementation of norms. Originating in the mid-1990s, it has generated four international treaties, been recognized with two Nobel Peace Prizes, and inspired ongoing efforts to reduce other arms-related harm.  

Humanitarian disarmament’s twin pillars of prevention and remediation should guide the allocation of resources to advance human security. COVID-19 has caused people to take a fresh look at states’ budgetary choices. To prevent arms-inflicted harm, governments and industry should stop investing in unacceptable weapons as well as strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of weapons and ensure arms transfers comply with international law. The money spent on nuclear arsenals and other military expenses could be better used for humanitarian purposes, such as health care or social spending. To remediate harm, governments should redirect money to programs that assist victims, restore infrastructure, clear explosive ordnance, and clean up conflict-related pollution. Funding the multilateral institutions that set standards on these topics and ensure their implementation would also advance humanitarian disarmament’s goals.

The principles of inclusion and non-discrimination, which are fundamental to humanitarian disarmament, should inform measures to address the inequalities that COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated. The pandemic has increased the challenges faced by conflict survivors and other persons with disabilities due to the vulnerability of certain groups, their inability to access health care and basic necessities, and restrictions on aid workers. A humanitarian disarmament response would ensure that such inequality and marginalization do not become entrenched. It would also promote more sensitive programs than existed before. States and humanitarian actors should broaden efforts to involve affected individuals and diverse populations in decision-making, gather data disaggregated by gender, age, disability, and ethnicity, and deliver assistance in a non-discriminatory manner. 

Inclusivity and accessibility should underpin diplomacy as it emerges from its current digital state. Since the pandemic led to a global lockdown, in-person disarmament meetings have been canceled, postponed, or held digitally. While face-to-face meetings have important advantages, once they resume, the international community could increase inclusivity and accessibility by permitting meaningful online participation at multilateral meetings. Individuals, including survivors and other persons with disabilities, who are unable to travel due to lack of funding or visa restrictions, could add their voices to critical discussions about setting and operationalizing norms.

Finally, international cooperation should become a standard way to address global issues, as it is in humanitarian disarmament. Humanitarian disarmament treaties, which mandate international coordination, information exchange, and resource sharing, offer models of cooperation. States should adopt a cooperative approach to addressing the human and environmental harm inflicted by arms and increase their assistance to affected states. Such a cooperative mindset, reinforced by the pandemic experience, should carry over to other multilateral efforts to create, implement, and adapt international norms.  

As the world transitions to a post-pandemic reality, we call on states, international organizations, and civil society to follow humanitarian disarmament’s lead. The international community should prioritize human security, reallocate military spending to humanitarian causes, work to eliminate inequalities, ensure multilateral fora incorporate diverse voices, and bring a cooperative mindset to problems of practice and policy. Together we can reshape the security landscape for the future and help create a new—and improved—“normal.” 

Since the letter opened for signature in June 2020, it has been signed by the following 161 organizations:

Global Campaigns:

  • Campaign to Stop Killer Robots
  • Conflict and Environment Observatory
  • Control Arms
  • International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
  • International Campaign to Ban Landmines–Cluster Munition Coalition
  • International Network on Explosive Weapons


  • Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy
  • Action on Armed Violence
  • Centre for Armed Violence Reduction
  • Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy
  • Centre for Peace & Development, Security, and Armed Violence Prevention (CPS-AVIP)
  • Conflict Awareness Project
  • Ethics in Technology
  • Global Campaign on Military Spending (G-COMS)
  • HALO Trust
  • Humanity & Inclusion
  • International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW)
  • International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA)
  • International Peace Bureau
  • International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)
  • Jesuit Refugee Service
  • Landmine Free 2025 Campaign
  • Mayors for Peace
  • Mercy International Association, Global Action
  • Mines Advisory Group (MAG)
  • Movimiento por un Mundo sin Guerras
  • Nonviolence International
  • Norwegian People’s Aid
  • Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA)
  • PAX
  • Pax Christi International
  • PeaceQuest International
  • Shadow World Investigations
  • Soka Gakkai International
  • United Methodist Church–General Board of Church and Society
  • Veterans For Peace
  • Vision GRAM-International
  • Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
  • World BEYOND War


  • Action for Women and Children Concern (AWCC)
  • African Council of Religious Leaders–Religions for Peace (ACRL-RfP)
  • Association of Medical Students of Namibia
  • Cameroon Youths and Students Forum for Peace (CAMYOSFOP)
  • Centre d’Encadrement et de Développement des Anciens Combattants (CEDAC)
  • Civil Society Advance Forum on Sustainable Development
  • Ecumenical Service for Peace (SeP)
  • Environmental Protection Promoters Initiative
  • Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa (FECCLAHA)
  • Femmes des Médias pour la Justice au Congo (FMJC)
  • Groupe d’Actions pour la Consolidation de la Paix (GACP)
  • International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations–South Africa (IFMSA South Africa)
  • Jireh Doo Foundation (JDF)
  • Kikandwa Rural Communities Development Organization
  • Liberia Action Network on Small Arms (LANSA)
  • Ligue Internationale des Femmes pour la Paix et la Liberté–RDC (WILPF-RDC)
  • Mécanisme pour l’Initiative de la Recherche de la Paix et le Développement (MI-RPD)
  • Medical Students’ Association of Malawi
  • Noble Delta Women for Peace and Development
  • Peoples Federation for National Peace and Development (PEFENAP)
  • Regional Centre for International Development Cooperation (RCIDC)
  • Reveil Communautaire d’Assistances aux Victimes (RECOVI)
  • Sierra Leone Action Network on Small Arms (SLANSA)
  • Somali Human Rights Association (SOHRA)
  • Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD)
  • Survivors Recovery and Rehabilitation Organization (SRaRO)
  • West African Action Network on Small Arms (WAANSA)
  • Women’s Right to Education Programme
  • Zimbabwe Medical Students Association
  • Zimbabwe Open University

Americas and the Caribbean:

  • 24-0 México
  • Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress
  • Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI), Harvard Law School
  • Asociación Mexicana de Médicos en Formacion A.C. (AMMEF A.C.)
  • Campaña Colombiana Contra Minas
  • Caribbean Coalition for Development and Reduction of Armed Violence (CDRAV)
  • Centro de Estudios Ecuménicos
  • Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CMDPDH)
  • Direção Executiva Nacional dos Estudantes de Medicina (DENEM Brazil)
  • Environmentalists Against War
  • Friends Committee on National Legislation
  • Hibakusha Stories/Youth Arts New York
  • Instituto de Ecología Política
  • Instituto Sou da Paz
  • International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations–Brazil (IFMSA Brazil)
  • International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations–Québec (IFMSA Québec)
  • Legacies of War
  • Mines Action Canada
  • Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
  • Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • Pax Christi Northern California
  • Peace Action
  • Peace Resource Center, Wilmington College
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • Project Ploughshares
  • Proud Students Against Landmines and Cluster Bombs/West Virginia Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Bombs (PSALM/WVCBL)
  • Science for Peace
  • Seguridad Humana en Latintoamérica y el Caribe (SEHLAC)
  • Serviço de Paz (SERPAZ)
  • World Federalist Movement–Canada


  • Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal (NCBL)
  • Center for Peace Education, Miriam College
  • Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution Cambodia
  • ChangeMaker: Society for Social and Economic Development
  • Family Studies Circle, Miriam College
  • Indian Institute for Peace, Disarmament and Environmental Protection
  • International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations–Japan (IFMSA Japan)
  • International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations–Pakistan (IFMSA Pakistan)
  • Japan Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • Medical Students Association of India
  • Pax Christi Philippines
  • Poovulagin Nanbargal
  • Rotary Club Visakhapatnam
  • Society of Malaysian Medical Association Medical Students (SMMAMS)
  • Women for Peace and Democracy Nepal


  • Állítsuk meg a Gyilkos Robotokat
  • Associació d’Estudiants de Ciències de la Salut
  • Associazione Nazionale Vittime Civili di Guerra
  • Campagna Italiana Contro le Mine
  • Changemaker Norway
  • Comisión General Justicia y Paz
  • Den Internasjonale Kampanjen for å Avskaffe Atomvåpen (ICAN) Norge
  • Don’t Bank on the Bomb Scotland
  • Facing Finance
  • Forum Peace Ethics (FFE) within the Evangelical Church of Baden, Germany
  • Fundació Catalunya Voluntària
  • Fundació per la Pau (FundiPau)
  • Hellenic Medical Students’ International Committee (HelMSIC)
  • International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons–France (ICAN France)
  • International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) Norway
  • Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
  • Macedonian Medical Students’ Association
  • Medact
  • Organization of Amputees UDAS
  • Pax Christi Flanders
  • PeaceLink
  • Pressenza–International Press Agency
  • Rete Antirazzista Catanese
  • Rete Italiana per il Disarmo
  • Sadankomitea (Committee of 100 in Finland)
  • Secure Scotland
  • Scientists for Global Responsibility
  • Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
  • Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society
  • UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities

Middle East:

  • Arab Human Security Network
  • Landmines Resource Center (LMRC), University of Balamand
  • Peace and Freedom Organization
  • Yemen Mine Awareness Association


  • Christians for Peace Newcastle Australia
  • Disarmament and Security Centre
  • Hunter Peace Group
  • Independent and Peaceful Australia Network
  • Marrickville Peace Group
  • Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia)
  • Pacific Small Arms Action Group (PSAAG)
  • Peace Movement Aotearoa
  • SafeGround Inc
  • Victoria Regional Meeting of Quakers