Director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute, Matthew Bolton, was featured today on a podcast of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative on humanitarian disarmament. The episode convenes “leading experts and practitioners in the humanitarian disarmament movement” to discuss “humanitarian approach to disarmament, and lessons from particular campaigns, including the Nobel Peace Prize-winning coalitions behind the 2017 Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty and the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, as well ongoing movements to address the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, lethal autonomous weapons systems (“killer robots”), toxic remnants of war, and other remaining challenges for civilian protection in armed conflict.”
Bolton spoke primarily about the victim assistance and environmental remediation obligations in the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, highlighting findings from recent research in Kiribati.
Radio New Zealand Pacific covered the new Pace University International Disarmament Institute reports on the humanitarian and human rights impact of UK and US nuclear weapons testing on Kiritimati (Christmas) and Malden Islands. Dr. Matthew Bolton, director of the International Disarmament Institute, argues that the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons offers an new normative framework enabling assistance to victim and remediation of contaminated environments through international cooperation and assistance.
The Forum on the Arms Trade report Addressing Non-State Actors: Multiple Approaches has published an article by Matthew Bolton, director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute on ways to use the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to address armed violence in Kenya (which has signed but not yet ratified the treaty):
“Militarized state interventions to address cattle rustling in Kenya often exacerbate the situation, introducing new weapons (that enter the illicit market sector through theft or sale) and extrajudicial violence. Heavy-handed suppression is also expensive, diverting important resources away from sustainable development. Similarly, militarized state responses to the collapsing populations of elephants and rhinos—such as shoot-to-kill policies—have often failed to meet human rights standards and have even been implicated in poaching. Indeed, such responses may undermine important efforts to engage and build local capacities for sustainability, peace, and alternative livelihoods. There are, however, alternatives to militarized responses to pastoralist conflict and wildlife crime, rooted in human rights, the rule of law and international cooperation and assistance. The previous African elephant poaching crisis in the 1980s—which was fueled by the influx of guns in Africa’s Cold War proxy conflicts—was stopped not so much by militarized interventions but rather through international legal and normative change. In 2013, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) established, for the first time, global regulations on the transfer of conventional weapons that can prevent arms getting into the hands of human rights abusers, terrorists, war criminals and organized criminal groups. The majority of African states have signed the ATT and Kenya was particularly crucial in this diplomatic victory, as one of the eight “co-authors” (seen as custodians of the process) of the 2006 General Assembly Resolution that launched the treaty process. However, Kenya has not yet joined the ATT. If it is universalized and rigorously implemented, States like Kenya can use the ATT as a normative framework for assessing and mitigating the risks that arms transfers will exacerbate armed violence in pastoralist communities, including cattle raiding and wildlife crime, as well as counterproductive, militarized approaches to controlling pastoralist regions.”
This article is based on research conducted by Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute during its 2016-2017 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Academy East Africa project. In partnership with the Control Arms Secretariat, the International Disarmament Institute’s ATT Academy was a year-long program of education, research and training on the ATT for East and Horn of Africa officials and civil society activists. This project was supported by the UN Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR).
“In addition to the some 500 indigenous I-Kiribati people on Kiritimati island, now part of the Republic of Kiribati, 43,000 military and civilian personnel from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States and Fiji participated in the total of 33 U.K. and U.S. nuclear weapons tests in and around Kiribati between 1957 and 1962. …
“In 2015, Kiribati’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Makurita Baaro stated, “Today, our communities still suffer from the long-term impacts of the tests, experiencing higher rates of cancer, particularly thyroid cancer, due to exposure to radiation. …
“There has never been a sufficiently comprehensive, public, and independent analysis of the environmental impact of nuclear testing at Kiritimati, nor Malden Island. … Nevertheless, there is extensive evidence that the tests killed and maimed wildlife and damaged vegetation. …
“The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) frames nuclear weapons as an affront to humanity and acknowledges the humanitarian and environmental harm of use and testing, including the disproportionate impact on women and girls and indigenous peoples. In addition to banning nuclear weapons, the TPNW obliges states that join it to address the harm inflicted on people and the environment from nuclear weapons use and testing.”
For the International Disarmament Institute’s comprehensive report on the impact of the Kiritimati and Malden Island nuclear weapons tests, click here. For its report on the impact on Fijian veterans, click here.
For the International Disarmament Institute’s general overview of the global humanitarian, human rights and environmental impact of nuclear weapons use and testing, click here.
“The decision to withdraw from the Iran deal is truly irresponsible, putting political posturing above human security. The Iran nuclear deal made the world safer and less at risk of nuclear proliferation. The agreement cut off all the pathways to an Iranian bomb. This plays into the hands of hardliners in Iran who also want to scuttle the deal. It is a blow to America’s credibility, undercutting its capacity to persuade others that the US keeps its promises. The rest of the signatories of the Iran Deal – Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the EU – should forge ahead with upholding the agreement.”
Last year, he published a more comprehensive analysis in The Hill outlining the importance of the Iran Deal, saying:
“The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the “Iran deal,” represents one of the most significant recent diplomatic victories in curbing the spread of nuclear weapons. It resulted from complex technical negotiations that do not lend themselves to snappy slogans. Nevertheless, at its heart, the agreement’s simple bargain has made the world safer.”
As illustrated by the lack of availability of a key environmental survey (pictured above), there is very little public information available on the health and environmental risks of UK and US nuclear weapons testing at Kiritimati (Christmas) Island, now in the Republic of Kiribati.
Sydney Tisch ’20, Undergraduate Research Fellow in Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute, reflects on the difficulties of finding information about UK and US nuclear weapons testing at Kiritimati (Christmas) and Malden Islands: “That documents were seemingly impossible to find shows whose lives and bodies we in the West care about and whose we don’t.” Tisch helped with research for the Institute’s reports on the humanitarian, human rights and environmental impact of nuclear weapons testing in Kiribati.
When I found an email from Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute in my inbox asking for applicants for an Undergraduate Research Fellow to assist in a researching on victim assistance for people impacted by nuclear testing in the Pacific, I was excited and, in retrospect, completely unaware of what the position would actually entail.
In the past I had conducted my own research projects for class, where the furthest out of my way I had ever gone was visiting the Bryant Park branch of the New York Public Library to look at documents they had stored in their archives. I had also worked on a research project with Dr. Emily Bent, another professor at Pace University, which primarily consisted of qualitative analysis and coding of data that had already been collected.
Even after I found out I got the position, was handed a literal “List of Things to Find,” and was told that my search to find various environmental surveys would be difficult, I still could not imagine how difficult that could be. In my mind, at most I would be taking a week’s worth of research to find one of the items on the list; it never even occurred to me that I would be unable to procure any of them.
Paul Ah Poy, President of the Fiji Nuclear Veterans Association was posted to Christmas Island during the UK nuclear weapons testing program. Photo: Matthew Bolton.
Between 1957 and 1958, Fijian soldiers participated in the nine UK nuclear weapons tests at Malden and Kiritimati (Christmas) Islands, now part of the Republic of Kiribati. Test veterans, including Fijians, and civilian survivors claim their health (as well as their descendants’) was adversely affected by exposure to ionizing radiation. Their concerns are supported by independent medical research. Though the UK government assured coverage of Fijian troops’ service-related health problems during the tests, it has offered them no assistance or compensation. Instead, the Fiji government has stepped in to offer a one-off grant to veterans to support medical and welfare costs in 2015. The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which Fiji has signed but not yet ratified, obligates assistance to victims and remediation of contaminated environments, including those affected by the Christmas and Malden Islands nuclear tests. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for the role of its advocacy in achieving the treaty.
Teeua Tetua, President of the Association of Cancer Patients Affected by the British and American Bomb Tests, Kiritimati, January 2018. Photo: Matthew Bolton.
Between 1957 and 1962, the UK and USA tested 33 nuclear devices at Malden and Kiritimati (Christmas) Islands, now part of the Republic of Kiribati. British, Fijian, New Zealand and American veterans of the testing program and I-Kiribati civilians who lived on Kiritimati claim their health (as well as their descendants’) was adversely affected by exposure to ionizing radiation. Their concerns are supported by independent medical research. However, analysis of the ongoing humanitarian, human rights and environmental impact of nuclear weapons testing at Kiritimati and Malden Islands has been inadequate. The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which Kiribati has signed but not yet ratified, obligates assistance to victims and remediation of contaminated environments, including those affected by the Christmas and Malden Islands nuclear tests. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for the role of its advocacy in achieving the treaty.
Bishop Korir helps a family rebuild their house after the post-election violence of 2007/2008.
It is with great sadness that the International Disarmament Institute has learned of the passing of a dear friend and partner, Bishop Cornelius Korir of the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret in Kenya. At great risk to himself, Bishop Korir intervened personally to address violence in the North Rift region of Kenya, notably in conflict following elections in 1992, 1997 and 2007/2008. He was known to step between groups of fighters, mobilize care for wounded people, build connections across lines of hostility and encourage antagonists to seek healing and reconciliation.
“We wish to offer our deepest condolences to the family, colleagues and friends of Bishop Korir, as well as the Diocese of Eldoret,” said Dr. Matthew Bolton, Director of the International Disarmament Institute. “He was a courageous witness for peace, social justice and reconciliation in Kenya, but his voice also resonated far beyond East Africa, inspiring many of us around the world to work for peace at the grassroots level.”
ICAN’s strategy was primarily a discursive one. We aimed to change the way that people talk, think and feel about nuclear weapons, changing their social meaning from symbols of status to outdated, dangerous machines that have repulsive effects.
Representatives of the nuclear-states often marginalize those calling disarmament by dismissing them as deluded. In her protest outside the room where states were negotiating the TPNW, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley chided them, saying “we have to be realistic.” However, ICAN campaigners called attention to the discrepancies between these claims to “realism” and the mystification that surrounded these nuclear weapons.
To change how nuclear weapons were discussed, we brought nuclear weapons into new arenas where humanitarianism, human rights and environmentalism are regular conversations, and to inject these discourses into traditional nuclear forums.
We demanded from states the meaningful participation of survivors, affected communities, medical professionals, faith leaders, humanitarian agencies, activists and academics in the nuclear conversation. We pointed out when forums and panels excluded women, people from the Global South and those who have experienced nuclear weapons’ effects.