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UN General Assembly confirms resolution to launch nuclear weapon ban treaty negotiations

23 October 2016, New York

The General Assembly of the United Nations approved the resolution recommended to it in October by its First Committee on Disarmament and International Security to start negotiations in 2017 on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The resolution was adopted by a large majority, with 113 UN member states voting in favour, 35 voting against and 13 abstaining.

“The adoption of this resolution represents a meaningful advancement towards the elimination of nuclear weapons,” said Ray Acheson, Director of the disarmament programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). “It also represents a revolt of the vast majority of states against the violence, intimidation, and injustice perpetuated by those supporting these weapons of mass destruction.”

WILPF, the oldest women’s peace organization in the world, is a member of the International Steering Group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the leading civil society coalition advocating for a ban on nuclear weapons. Noting decades of activism against nuclear weapons around the world, Ms. Acheson argued that the pursuit of a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons is transformative.

“By stigmatising nuclear weapons through legally codifying their prohibition, a treaty banning nuclear weapons will help facilitate nuclear disarmament,” she suggested. “It will be an essential legal tool to help compel nuclear-armed states to disarm by creating legal, political, economic, and social disincentives for the possession of nuclear weapons.”

Nuclear-armed states and those states that include nuclear weapons in their security doctrines continued to oppose the resolution. ICAN reports that at a UN budget committee meeting earlier this week, the United States tried to derail the process by objecting to a funding request for the planned four weeks of negotiations on the treaty, to be held at UN headquarters in New York. But under intense pressure from supporters of nuclear disarmament, it eventually withdrew its objection, and the committee authorised the request.

Negotiations are set to take place 27–31 March and 15 June–7 July 2017 in New York. WILPF is calling for all states to participate constructively in the negotiations, but warns that the participation of any particular state or group of states must not be considered requisite for success. Any process to ban nuclear weapons must be open to all and blockable by none, and inclusive of civil society.

“As a matter of principle, weapons that are indiscriminate in nature and are intended to cause catastrophic humanitarian harm should be prohibited under international law. This new treaty will place nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as other weapons of mass destruction,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN.

“We believe that, through its normative force, the nuclear weapon ban treaty will affect the behaviour of nuclear-armed nations even if they refuse to join it. It will also affect the behaviour of many of their allies that currently claim protection from nuclear weapons, including those in Europe that host nuclear weapons on their territory. It will contribute significantly towards achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world.”

For more information about the upcoming negotiations, see the ICAN website.