Nuclear weapons ban treaty negotiations at the UN in New York, March 2017. Photo courtesy of ICAN.
The object and purpose of the proposed nuclear weapons ban treaty is to address and prevent the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons. As such, the political process that has led to the beginning of negotiations is rooted in humanitarian disarmament, which seeks to eliminate the suffering caused by problematic weapons.
A new report authored by Matthew Bolton, Director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute, argues that the international community should seize the opportunity to achieve the humanitarian aims of this process by ensuring the nuclear weapons ban treaty includes strong positive obligations as well as prohibitions. Positive obligations would make the process of stigmatizing and limiting the harm of nuclear weapons the responsibility of all states, including those affected and not directly affected by nuclear detonations. Such provisions would encourage states to engage directly in extending and universalizing the norm, working toward a nuclear weapons free world.
Existing weapons treaties, especially humanitarian disarmament ones, provide important precedent for positive obligations. Their relevant provisions tend to fall in three categories:
Rights and remedial measures (e.g. environmental remediation, risk education, victim assistance),
Promotion of the treaty and of its norms (e.g. universalization and disarmament education),
International cooperation and assistance to implement the above two sets of obligations.
Director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute Matthew Bolton chaired a side event on positive obligations at the UN 31 March 2017 during the first round of negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
The panel featured Richard Moyes, Managing Director of Article 36, presenting research on stockpile destruction; Bonnie Docherty of the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic presenting research on environmental remediation; and Erin Hunt of Mines Action Canada offering insight into how victim assistance provisions might function.
Dr. Bolton highlighted research by the International Disarmament Institute on possible educational provisions in the treaty. In preparation for the side event he also published an article in the Nuclear Ban Daily on precedents for positive obligations in humanitarian disarmament treaties.
For further information on the side event, read the write-up from Article 36’s Elizabeth Minor.
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.