International Disarmament Institute News

Education and Research on Global Disarmament Policy

May 7, 2018
by mbolton
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Fiji: Addressing the Humanitarian and Human Rights Concerns of Kirisimasi (Christmas and Malden Island) Veterans

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.

A new report from Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute documents the humanitarian, human rights and environmental harm caused by these nuclear weapons tests, finding that:

  • 276 Fijian troops were among the 15,000 personnel who participated in the UK nuclear weapons tests in and around Kiribati; Fijian dignitaries also visited.
  • Fijian soldiers and sailors were often allocated more dangerous tasks, like dumping birds killed or blinded by the tests, and even radioactive waste, into the ocean
  • Sixty years after the tests there are 32 surviving nuclear test veterans in Fiji, plus surviving spouses, children and grandchildren.
  • Many military and civilian survivors of the Christmas and Malden tests have health problems consistent with exposure to radiation; descendants also report multi-generational health problems.
  • The tests killed thousands of birds and fish. The environmental impact of the nuclear tests has not been adequately analyzed.

The report recommends that Fiji and the international community should:

  1. Sign and RATIFY the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
  2. Assess and RESPOND to the humanitarian needs of survivors, including the Fijian veterans.
  3. Survey and REMEDIATE contaminated environments at Kiritimati and Malden Islands.
  4. RESPECT, protect and fulfill the human rights of nuclear test survivors.
  5. RETELL the stories of the humanitarian and environmental impact of the tests.

To read the full report, click here.

For a more comprehensive report on the impact of the Kiritimati and Malden Island tests, click here.

For a general overview of the global humanitarian, human rights and environmental impact of nuclear weapons use and testing, click here.

December 1, 2017
by mbolton
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Linking Disarmament Education and Humanitarian Action on Nuclear Harm

Participants in the 27th UN Conference on Disarmament Issues (UNCDI) in Hiroshima lay flowers at the Cenotaph honoring those who died in the atomic bomb attack.

Full Written Remarks by Matthew Bolton, director of the International Disarmament Institute, for Session on “Education for the Next Generation on the Realities of the Atomic Bombings” at the 27th United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues (UNCDI) in Hiroshima, 29-30 November 2017.

I must admit that when asked to speak on this panel, I initially felt awkward about the request. I have no personal experience with the realities of the atomic bombings here in Hiroshima, or Nagasaki. I have not myself suffered the impacts of nuclear weapons testing in the places where I live. However, in preparing for this panel I have been reflecting on how I came to know about the humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons.

I spent some of the first years of my life here in Japan. Though we left when I was only three-years-old, I still have memories of Tokyo and the friends my parents made there would often visit our home in Leicester, England. As a result, I grew up with a positive regard for Japanese people and so always felt disturbed when history classes debated whether the atomic bombings “ended the war.” I could not so easily dismiss the lives of Japanese people as “collateral damage.” I could imagine people in the casualty statistics.

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October 24, 2017
by mbolton
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Analysis of ICAN’s Nobel Peace Prize-Winning Advocacy Campaign

In an article for Just Security, Director of the International Disarmament Institute Matthew Bolton and two leaders of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Beatrice Fihn and Elizabeth Minor, examine the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize-winning advocacy effort culminating in the negotiation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

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.

To read the full article, click here.

October 16, 2017
by mbolton
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Panel at UN on Addressing Nuclear Harm

Side event on addressing nuclear harm during the UN General Assembly First Committee, chaired by Trinidad and Tobago.

Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute co-hosted a panel at the UN last Thursday on addressing the humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons use and testing.

The session was opened by Ambassador Pennelope Beckles of Trinidad and Tobago and chaired by Elizabeth Minor of Article 36.

Bonnie Docherty of the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic provided an overview of the victim assistance, environmental remediation and international cooperation and assistance provisions in the new Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Erin Hunt of Mines Acton Canada offered insights on lessons learned for victim assistance from implementing such provisions in the landmine and cluster munition ban treaties.

Matthew Bolton, director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute provided a summary of his new report “Humanitarian and Environmental Action to Address Nuclear Harm.” He particularly urged on states to draw on lessons learned from implementing the clearance and demining provisions in other humanitarian disarmament treaties.

The event was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung New York Office.

October 8, 2017
by mbolton
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Humanitarian and Environmental Action to Address Nuclear Harm

The development, production, testing and use of nuclear weapons has had catastrophic humanitarian and ecological consequences on people and environments around the world. ‘Nuclear harm’ – the damage caused by blast, incendiary and radioactive effects of nuclear weapons use, testing and production, as well as by other nuclear technologies – poses threats to the pursuit of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

A new report from Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute explores possibilities for new global humanitarian and environmental action to address nuclear harm.

Due to advocacy by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), recognized by the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) established ‘positive obligations’ on affected states to assist victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and to remediate contaminated environments. To ensure that the burden does not fall unduly on affected states, the TPNW requires all states to engage in international cooperation and assistance to achieve these and the treaty’s other goals. While the TPNW does not explicitly cover all forms of nuclear harm, and the universalization of the treaty may take some time, its implementation offers the opportunity to build a normative framework and institutional architecture for humanitarian and environmental action to address nuclear harm.

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July 28, 2017
by mbolton
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Guide to the New Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

The majority of the world’s countries just adopted a new treaty banning nuclear weapons, placing them in the same category of international law as other weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological weapons) or that cause unacceptable harm (landmines and cluster munitions). Despite this being the most significant development in global nuclear politics since the end of the Cold War, discussion of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is almost absent from the U.S. news media and often misunderstood in DC policy circles.

The treaty was approved by a vote at the UN on July 7: 122 countries voted in favor, the Netherlands against and Singapore abstained. The treaty will be available for countries to start signing it  on September 20.

In an article for Just Security, director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute provides a brief guide to the treaty’s preamble and operative provisions. Click here to read it.

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