New publications by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School and Article 36 on how the treaty text should be strengthened in these crucial areas

At the UN this year, states are negotiating a treaty to categorically prohibit nuclear weapons. This is because the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of these weapons render their possession by any state fundamentally unacceptable. Evidence of the suffering and devastation caused by nuclear weapons to people and places, as well as the testimony of survivors, have been a key driving force for this initiative.

Treaty negotiations will resume at the UN in New York on 15th June, and are expected to conclude with the adoption of the treaty on 7th July.

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

It is crucial for the treaty to address the rights and respond to the needs of victims. The treaty must also respond to the environmental consequences of nuclear weapons, which represent an ongoing hazard to human health and communities.

Obligations on states parties in these areas are necessary given the treaty’s humanitarian goals and foundations. Clear legal obligations in the treaty, on victim assistance and environmental remediation, should also reflect and build on requirements states have agreed to for other prohibited weapons. Establishing these international standards can influence states not party to the treaty in the approaches they take to these issues.

The Draft Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, released by the negotiating conference President in May, contains the basis for strong provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation in the adopted treaty. However, a more detailed and comprehensive approach to states parties’ obligations in these areas is needed.

In two new papers released today, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School and Article 36 set out: what victim assistance and environmental remediation entail as approaches to addressing the harm caused by nuclear weapons; why these are needed in the treaty – and are appropriate for states parties to take on, with or without the participation of user states; and how the draft text can be improved to establish strong obligations that apply to affected and non-affected states parties.

Nagasaki on August 9th 1945. © ICRC Archives (ARR)

All affected states parties should be required by the treaty to provide assistance to victims and measures towards the remediation of affected environments. Placing the primary responsibility for these activities on affected states is not intended to place an unfair burden or any blame on them, but rather is consistent with all states’ general obligations to uphold the human rights of their populations, and with the rights-based approach to victim assistance that represents the international standard.

However, taking such an approach does not mean that affected states should face meeting these obligations alone. All states parties should be required to provide international cooperation and assistance to affected states – many of whom who may not be able to meet their obligations without such support – in a framework of responsibility that involves all states parties to the treaty. The expectation should be raised that the international community will take steps towards the realisation of the rights of victims of nuclear weapons, and the remediation of affected environments.

Strengthening these aspects of the treaty text, and elaborating provisions in more detail to include for example the principle of non-discrimination in the provision of assistance to individuals with similar needs, are essential steps for states to take as they resume negotiations next week.

Read the papers

Summary papers with key recommendations:

Key points: Victim assistance in the nuclear weapon ban treaty
June 2017
Summary paper

 

Key points: Environmental remediation in the nuclear weapon ban treaty
June 2017
Summary paper

 

Full papers with detailed analysis:

Victim assistance in the nuclear weapon ban treaty: a comprehensive and detailed approach
June 2017
Briefing paper

 

Environmental remediation in the nuclear weapon ban treaty: A comprehensive and detailed approach
June 2017
Briefing paper

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