At the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, Austria committed to work to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons”. This represents a significant step towards a treaty process to ban nuclear weapons. Austria observed in their pledge that despite the “unacceptable harm that victims of nuclear weapons explosions and nuclear testing have experienced … the rights and needs of victims have not yet been adequately addressed “. In this new briefing paper, Article 36 looks at the need for victim assistance provisions in a treaty banning nuclear weapons, and explores some of the steps that should be considered.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz at the Vienna conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

Delegates at conferences of the Humanitarian Initiative on Nuclear Weapons have presented substantial evidence of the difficulties that victims and survivors of nuclear weapons face. Immediate and long-term health impacts and psychological challenges are often compounded by social and economic exclusion, in the testimony of survivors. However, there is currently no international legal instrument that provides a framework for victims and survivors of nuclear weapons to collectively seek assistance towards the full realisation of their rights. National programmes are inconsistent and piecemeal. In this context, Article 36 considers victim assistance an important issue around which to build both a policy debate and a community of practice working for legal reform.

Article 36 and Reaching Critical Will, in our 2014 report ‘A Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons‘, suggested that a ban treaty could articulate the responsibility of States Parties to ensure the fulfillment of the rights of victims of nuclear weapons and provide necessary assistance in this regard. Victims would include those affected by the use of nuclear weapons, accidental detonation, or weapons testing. This paper builds on that suggestion, and represents an initial consideration of some of the issues around including victim assistance in a treaty banning nuclear weapons. States, international organisations and NGOs, in conjunction with survivors and their representative groups, must now begin a more detailed conversation on how the rights of victims and survivors of nuclear weapons can be fulfilled.

Download the briefing paper

Victims assistance nuclear weapons

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