At the UN in New York this week, the majority of the world’s countries joined together to start negotiating a categorical prohibition of nuclear weapons. One hundred and thirty-two countries participated in the negotiations during this first week, with the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons – which have provided the imperative for this initiative – a key theme and backdrop to the discussions.

Injured civilians in Hiroshima, 6 August 1945 (UN photo/Yoshito Matsushige)

As well as hearing testimony and interventions from survivors of nuclear weapons detonations, states and civil society highlighted the need to keep these considerations at the centre of the efforts to negotiate the treaty, both in its preamble and its operative provisions. Regarding the latter, many countries raised in their interventions that the harms to people and the environment caused by nuclear weapons mean that positive obligations on parties to assist victims and remediate affected environments must be included in the treaty.

Article 36 submitted a working paper to the conference on why and how this should be done, and with the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School also released a paper on environmental remediation.

Such obligations are not only important given the principles that underpin the ban treaty, but are essential to include in order to uphold the norms created by other treaties to prohibit and eliminate unacceptable weapons. From their membership of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, states in the room this week are familiar with obligations on victims rights and environmental remediation. The ban treaty must be sure not to take a legal step back in this regard.

States have given their general views this week on what should be included in the treaty, and engaged with experts and civil society through highly productive interactive dialogue sessions on Thursday (to which Article 36’s Richard Moyes contributed on the expert panel). Talks are now suspended until June 15th, when the conference will reconvene to start work on finalising the treaty text. This will be drafted in the coming weeks.

Despite some divergence of views amongst states on how particular obligations to achieve a comprehensive prohibition might be achieved, the trajectory at the end of this week is clear, towards a strong instrument that draws on previous prohibition treaties. States have a clear aim to conclude the nuclear weapons ban treaty when the negotiating conference ends on the 7th July.

Despite the boycott of some states this week, the ban is coming – and will mark an historic step towards achieving the elimination of the most destructive weapons ever invented.

Read more

Positive Obligations in a Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons: Stockpile Destruction, Environmental Remediation, and Victim Assistance 
March 2017
Working paper submitted to negotiation conference

A Prohibition on Financing in the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

March 2017
Briefing paper

Environmental Remediation in the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty – also available en Español

March 2017
Briefing paper

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