Bonnie Docherty (left) of Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and Matthew Bolton (right), Director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute on a panel regarding positive obligations in the proposed nuclear weapons ban treaty at the UN in March 2017.
The case for the nuclear weapons ban treaty has been rooted in the traditions of international humanitarian law and humanitarian disarmament law, which bind states to acknowledging the suffering caused by war, establishing prohibitions on inhuman methods and means of warfare and taking positive harm-limiting measures.
The Geneva Conventions – the most well-known treaties forming the core of international humanitarian law – prohibit states from targeting civilians, wounded soldiers, prisoners of war, the shipwrecked and relief workers. But they also commit states to a positive “duty to ensure respect” for the conventions (Common Article 1). And they mandate the International Committee of the Red Cross and the National Societies to provide relief and to raise awareness of humanitarian norms.
The nuclear weapon ban treaty negotiations are the culmination of the Humanitarian Initiative on Nuclear Weapons. It has emerged from conferences (in Oslo, Nayarit, and Vienna) and UN General Assembly discussions that have demonstrated the horrifying suffering caused by nuclear weapons. Given that the motivation for the nuclear weapon ban is first and foremost humanitarian, diplomats and advocates involved in these negotiations must make sure that the eventual treaty actually meets the norms and standards of a humanitarian disarmament treaty.
Humanitarian treaties seeking to limit the impact of weapons (such as the 1907 Hague Conventions, landmine and cluster munition bans, and the explosive remnants of war protocol) differ from other arms control and nonproliferation treaties in at least three ways:
Harm-limiting positive provisions
Taken together, these three aspects ensure that a humanitarian disarmament treaty establishes a clear normative framework. The power of humanitarian disarmament treaties derive from their ability to generate a stigma around a weapon and address the human suffering it causes.
Gathering in New York this year, the majority of the world’s countries aim to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons (meeting 27-31 March and 15 June to 7 July 2017). Deeply concerned with the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear detonations – whether intentional or accidental – the UN General Assembly called for a new, humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament. Humanitarian disarmament treaties (such as the 1907 Hague Conventions, Landmine and Cluster Munition Bans, and Explosive Remnants of War Protocol) differ from other arms control and nonproliferation treaties. In addition to having a humanitarian framing and strong prohibitions, they often include positive provisions such as educational and awareness-raising measures that encourage states, civil society and international organizations to ensure respect for the norms set by the treaties and limit harm caused by the weapons they address.
In this two-pager, Director of the Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute Matthew Bolton makes the case for including educational provisions as one such set of harm-limiting positive provisions in the nuclear weapons ban treaty text.
The United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) creates opportunities to address the effect of small arms and light weapons (SALW) proliferation on pastoralist communities in The East and Horn of Africa region and elsewhere. Policymakers and advocates can use the ATT to limit the risks of diversion of guns and ammunition to militias, gangs and cattle raiders. The ATT also offers a framework to encourage security forces to follow international human rights and humanitarian law in pastoralist communities.
Le Traité des Nations Unies sur le commerce des armes (TCA) présente d’importantes opportunités pour cibler les conséquences néfastes de la prolifération des armes légères et de petit calibre (ALPC) au sein des communautés pastorales en Afrique de l’Est et dans la Corne de l’Afrique, ainsi qu’ailleurs. Les responsables politiques et les intervenants locaux peuvent utiliser le TCA afin de limiter le détournement d’armes et de munitions vers les milices, les bandes locales et les voleurs de bétail. Le TCA constitue également un cadre propice pour inciter les forces de l’ordre à respecter le droit humanitaire et les droits de l’homme dans les communautés pastorales.
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.
Participants in the ATT Academy, Lake Nakuru National Park. Photo: Control Arms.
The second ATT Academy training took place from 05-08 December 2016 at Lake Nakuru Lodge, Kenya and focused on ensuring deeper understanding of the Treaty’s provisions and their practical application. Over four days, participants explored themes relevant to the sub-region including Wildlife Crime, Pastoralist Conflict, Tackling Gender Based Violence and Importer Obligations. Excellent expert speakers, group discussions, homework assignments and hypothetical exercises ensured positive engagement among participants. Field visits with the Kenyan Wildlife Services (KWS) rangers provided participants with deeper understanding of the challenges they face in preventing poaching and preserving wildlife due to the proliferation of illicit weapons in the region.
The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Academy brings a new approach to learning about the ATT and its implementation. It provides an in-depth and tailored learning opportunity to carefully selected participants, all of whom engage directly with the ATT in their work as government, or as part of civil society. It also provides an opportunity to explore linkages to other relevant arms, security development instruments, and enables discussion and analysis of regionally-specific issues, such as the link between wildlife crime and small arms proliferation.
Republished from the Forum on the Arms Trade’s “Looking Ahead 2017” blog series.
The world is facing what the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has described as an “Environmental Crime Crisis,” with an unprecedented slaughter of large mammals, particularly in the African continent. More than 100,000 elephants have been killed by poachers in the last five years and, over the same period, the number of rhinoceroses poached has increased every year.
The illicit wildlife trade is now increasingly sophisticated, dangerous and globalized, integrated with armed groups and organized crime. It has been fueled by a proliferation of military-grade guns in unstable regions with high concentrations of rhinos and elephants. Since 2014, the UN Security Council has identified poaching as a regional security threat in Africa (S/RES/2134 and S/RES/2136). This month UNEP released a new report showing how environmental crime “threatens peace and security.” In 2017, the Arms Trade Treaty and other international measures could offer tools to address these problems in an integrated way.
The ATT Academy project has developed an online training providing an in-depth look at the gender-based violence provision (Article 7.4) of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and its role in addressing cross-cutting international and regional challenges, such as arms trafficking and the drug trade. The required reading list and homework exercise aim to illustrate some of the research the participants will need to do in order help their respective governments prepare for the implementation of Article 7(4) – the gender-based violence provision – of the ATT.
A rarely acknowledged irony of the post–cold war era is that it ushered in a moment when the world came closest to achieving “General and Complete Disarmament” (GCD) but, simultaneously, the concept was discursively marginalized and discredited as “unrealistic”. The sort of comprehensive disarmament envisioned by the GCD concept — reducing security forces and arsenals to no more than is needed for national safety—can now be talked about in policy circles only as something that is “done to” a former conflict zone, usually in the Global South. Reviewing the history of GCD reminds us that it was taken seriously by “serious people” and even written into international law. It allows us to pay attention to a concept that haunts the edges of our conventional wisdom about global security policy. The point is not to indulge in nostalgic “what if” counterfactuals, but to have the past challenge our present complacency and reintroduce GCD as a “thinkable thought.”