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.
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.”
Humanitarian Disarmament Forum 2016 conveners, at Pace University’s New York City campus. Photo courtesy of 4disarmament.org
Pace University was proud to host the 2016 Humanitarian Disarmament Forum on its downtown campus, 15-16 October, a gathering of more than 100 activists and advocates working on disarmament issues from a humanitarian and human rights perspective. Convened by Handicap International, Mines Action Canada, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the conference challenged participants to think how the advocacy community could make global disarmament policymaking “higher, faster, stronger.”
Pace University was featured in UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s report on “disarmament and non-proliferation education” in August 2016, which calls on “schools in all countries to inform and empower young people to become agents of peace by helping them to mobilize, act and promote the importance of disarmament and non-proliferation.”
“We are proud to see the UN recognize Pace for the excellent work it does in educating students in global citizenship,” said Dr. Matthew Bolton, Director of the International Disarmament Institute at Pace University in New York City.
Pace University’s full submission to the UN is available here.