August 2018 E-News

On 6 August, it was exactly 73 years ago that the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, instantly killing tens of thousands of the city's inhabitants. Setsuko Thurlow is one of the city's survivors. Last year, in her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize she jointly received on behalf of ICAN, she said: “This is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.” As we commemorate the horrific events of 6 and 9 August 1945, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the great urgency to build a world without nuclear weapons remains undeniable. 

Fortunately, new countries are joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons weekly, taking a strong stance against one of the greatest threats to humanity. In the past weeks, ratification instruments have been submitted by Nicaragua, New Zealand, and Uruguay, whilst Colombia has signed the Treaty. We are hopeful that states will also continue to show commitment to disarmament in other fora, so we can curb the arms trade and maintain the stigma against the use of biological weapons. In Geneva, the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention (BWC) Meetings of Experts is coming to an end this week, whilst in Tokyo, the Fourth Conference of States Parties to the ATT (CSP4) opens next week.

Even though the Northern hemisphere is experiencing an unprecedented heatwave that seems to paralyse everyone, the disarmament community is as active as ever! So, if you happen to find yourself amidst that heat, find yourself a shady spot and learn what has been going on in our most recent edition of E-News.

In this edition:

          WILPF Congress – another milestone for WILPF

WILPF Congress Web banner 716x400 1024x572From 20-22 August, the 32nd WILPF Triennial International Congress will take place in Accra, Ghana. This Congress is another milestone for WILPF, following on from the Centennial Congress in the Hague three years ago. It will be the first Congress to be hosted by an African Section, with a record number of new groups attending from the African continent! The theme of this Congress is “Building a Feminist Peace Movement”, and will bring together more than 200 participants representing 35 National Sections or Groups. WILPF members from around the world will gather in Accra to plot the course ahead for the organisation’s activism and to celebrate 103 years of working for feminist peace!

Ahead of this, WILPF is convening a Feminist Peace in Africa Forum, which will look at the historic and current realities of women working for peace across Africa, especially locally within conflict-affected community. The root causes of violence and women’s role in social transformation, economic justice, and peace will be explored. There will be space to network, connect, and strengthen links within and across the movement for peace. WILPF members can access the detailed agenda, and supporting materials in myWILPF. (Photo credit: WILPF)

         More countries sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Since last month, new countries have signed or ratified the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on a weekly basis! On 16 July, Nicaragua ratified the TPNW; on 25 July, Uruguay deposited its instrument for ratification, becoming the 13thstate party, and on 31 July, New Zealand followed suit. With Colombia signing the nuclear ban treaty on 4 August, Argentina is now the only Latin American country yet to sign the treaty. 

Other positive developments are taking place, bringing the date of the Treaty’s entry into force closer and closer: Panama’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs met with Japanese atomic bomb survivorsexpressing the country’s firm commitment to ratifying the Treaty without delay; Paraguay’s Senate Foreign Affairs Committee gave the green light for ratification; and San Marino assured that it will ratify the treaty on 26 September, the date of the next signing ceremony in New York. The ceremony, taking place on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, will provide further opportunities for states to collectively sign or deposit their ratification instruments.

Peace RideMomentum is also growing on the ground. Marking one year since the nuclear ban treaty opened for signature, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is organising a Nobel Peace Ride to take place from 2 September to 20 September in Australia In the spirit of “bikes not bombs”, participants will cycle from Melbourne, the birthplace of ICAN, to Canberra, where the decision must be made for Australia to sign and ratify the TPNW. If you are around, there is still time to join this great rally. Earlier in August, Canberra already became the sight of activism against the bomb: students protested against weapon manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, which produces Trident nuclear missiles for the US and UK, and demanded divestment from weapons. These protests have followed sit-ins by students from the University of Melbourne that took place earlier in July. As we reported, the university has a $13 million-research partnership with Lockheed Martin that has raised concerns about  ties between Australian universities and US weapon manufacturers. 

Local groups and ICAN partners are also shaking things up elsewhere. The City Council of Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the US adopted a resolution to “include in the City's 2017-18 Federal Legislative Program support for the United States to enter into the international Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and pursue ways to eliminate its nuclear stockpile." The vote came two days after the Baltimore City Council also voted unanimously to adopt a "Back from the Brink" resolution that invokes the TPNW, and in which Baltimore "calls on Congress to act to move back from the brink of a policy that makes nuclear war more likely." (Photo credit: ICAN)

         73 years since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings – never again!

Seventy-three years have passed since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The US dropped bombs over Hiroshima on 6 August and over Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, having killed 214,000 people by the end of 1945. The bombs decimated the cities, and left thousands more wounded and dying of radiation sickness, which has continued in to current generations. 

Commemorations of the horrific events took place all over the globe including some that urged countries to sign the TPNW. Remembrances took place in in Belgium, New Zealand, Australia, the UKGermany, and the US, among others. ICAN shared extensive content about the bombings on social media, including the animated video of Setsuko’s speech who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the testimony of Hibakusha Jong Kuen Lee, seven things everyone should know about the bombings, and a gripping animation by the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) on the impossibility of relief work in a bombing. Across its online platforms, WILPF also paid tribute to the victims and survivors, and offered actions that each of us can take to ensure that nuclear weapons will never be used again. 

With the annual commemorations around the world, ICAN picpressure mounted for Japan to sign and ratify the nuclear ban treaty. The vast majority of atomic bomb survivors, known as hibakusha, want Japan to join the ban treaty. In July, ICAN met with Japan’s state minister for foreign affairs and urged him to support TPNW, after hundreds gathered in Hiroshima for a symposium on the UN nuclear weapon ban treaty.

On 6 August, Ms. Nakamitsu, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, deliveredthe UN Secretary-General’s message at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Service, stating that “world leaders must return to dialogue and diplomacy, to a common path towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons and a safer and more secure world for all”. According to the organisers, over 6,000 nuclear disarmament activists and government representatives attended. Japanese media also covered the commemorations extensively: in television, in news articles and commentaries that urged Japan to be “on the right side of history”. 
Unfortunately, after attending the Peace Memorial Ceremony, Japanese Prime Minister Abe reiterated that Japan will not sign and ratify the Treaty. One is left to wonder how Japan can pay tribute to the bombings’ victims and still refuses to commit to the complete ban of nuclear weapons. 

The hibakusha and other activists will not be deterred from continuing to fight for Japan to accede the treaty in the near future. The Peace Declarations from the mayors ofNagasaki and Hiroshima also do not leave any doubt of their support to ban nuclear weapons. With the aim of inspiring visitors from all over the world to continue to push for their government to ratify the TPNW, ICAN’s Nobel Peace Prize medal is now on display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. In addition, from 7-9 August, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was the first Secretary-General to participate in a peace ceremony of the City of Nagasaki. He met with the Mayor of Nagasaki, ICAN members and partners, as well as with some hibakusha, a further strong symbolic message of Guterres’ support for the ban. (Photo credit: ICAN)

    BWC Meeting of Experts

From 7-16 August, the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention (BWC) Meetings of Experts (MXs) is taking place in Geneva. In December 2017, the BWC Meeting of States Parties (MSP) agreed on an intersessional programme between the five-yearly Review Conferences from 2018 to 2020 consisting of annual Meetings of States Parties and MXs. This MX is live streamed for the first time. It is considering the following topics: Cooperation and Assistance, with a particular focus on strengthening cooperation and assistance under Article X; Reviewing of Developments in the Field of Science and Technology related to the Convention; Strengthening National Implementation; Assistance, Response and Preparedness; and Institutional Strengthening of the Convention.

For the first time, a joint NGO Position Paper has been presented and published on the BWC website, setting out key action points for the 2018 MXs.

While the BWC is one of the most adhered-to weapon bans in history, recent technological and scientific advances, such as gene editing, bring not only benefits for humankind but also carry risk of misuse and abuse. Outbreaks of the ebola and zika viruses have demonstrated that incidents of infectious disease—whether natural, accidental or deliberate— have devastating implications for the people and countries affected. Along with the rising number of biological defence programs, these developments require renewed efforts by the international community to sustain the complete ban on biological weapons. 

    Arms Trade Treaty conference must assess Treaty’s real impact

States will meet in Tokyo, Japan for the Fourth Conference of States Parties (CSP4) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) from 20-24 August 2018. ATT LogoThe conference is meant to be an opportunity to assess progress on universalisation and implementation, address relevant challenges, and put in place necessary mechanisms to support the Treaty's objectives. However, recent ATT states parties meetings have tended to emphasise the latter of these actions, focusing much time on procedural issues and not engaging in matters of substance or questions about the Treaty's real life impact in stopping arms transfers of concern. It is imperative that space be made to determine if the ATT is working or not. 

Somewhat more positively, the ATT 's working groups on implementation, universalisation, and transparency and reporting have been meeting over the last year and each will put forward proposals at CSP4 to continue their work. A key concern is that fewer states parties submitted annual reports over this last year and the obstacles to doing so are not clear. Each working group also has a sub-group focusing on the relationship between its topic and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), following a thematic session on the SDGs at CSP3. This year there will be a thematic session on diversion.

Reaching Critical Will will be publishing daily updates from the conference via its ATT Monitor. Subscribe now to receive this source of information and analysis. In addition, our conference webpage also includes relevant documents and statements, as well as WILPF publications on the ATT and the arms trade, many of which highlight the potential of the Treaty to reduce gender-based violence and illustrate how states can implement the ATT in a gender-sensitive way. RCW's programme manager will present work during a side event at CSP4 organized by the Control Arms Coalition and the government of Ireland.(Photo credit: ATT Secretariat) 

UN talks on killer robots to resume

More than 70 countries are expected to attend the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva on 27-31 August 2018. It will be the sixth time since 2014 that countries meet about this issue, and the August talks will build on an earlier meeting held in April.

While the serious challenges raised by fully autonomous weapons have gained widespread attention over the past five years, progress by states toward determining what to do about these weapons has been slow. Many states say they have “no plans” to acquire or develop fully autonomous weapons and there is now widespread agreement about the need to retain some form of human control over future weapons systems and the use of force. A total of 26 countries are explicitly calling for a ban on fully autonomous weapons. Austria and other states have proposed beginning negotiations on new international law to retain meaningful human control over weapons systems.

WILPF is a member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and will be represented at the meeting by the Reaching Critical Will team as well as WILPF Cameroon. Subscribe to receive the CCW Report, our daily publication with reporting and analysis from the meeting, and follow us on Twitter @RCW_. 

Upcoming events

Feminist Peace Movement in Africa Forum
18 August 2018, Accra

WILPF International 32nd Congress
20–22 August 2018, Accra

Fourth Conference of States Parties of the Arms Trade Treaty
20–24 August 2018, Tokyo

Group of Governmental Experts on autonomous weapon systems
27–31 August 2018, Geneva

International Day against Nuclear Tests
29 August

Nobel Peace Ride
2–21 September 2018, Melbourne to Canberra

8th Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions
3–5 September 2018, Geneva

21–22 September 2018, Toronto

Faslane International Peace Demonstration: Nae To Nukes
22 September 2018, Scotland

Nelson Mandela Peace Summit
24 September 2018, New York

UN General Assembly High-Level Debate
25 September–1 October 2018, New York

International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
26 September 2018, New York

Signing Ceremony for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
26 September 2018, New York

Featured news

States continue to celebrate and invest in modernisation of their weapon arsenals

New technologies are changing the nature of weaponry. Drones Grave Control ArmsThe US Marines proudly proclaimed a “big breakthrough” to “take out targets from a single handheld tablet” with drones. In July, The US Marine Corps Warfighting Lab held a drone-endurance test in the desert during which one unmanned aircraft flew for nearly two hours straight. China followed suit, the Shenyang Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, confirmed in July that it isdeveloping robotic unmanned submarines that can perform a wide range of missions, from reconnaissance to mine placement to even suicide attacks against enemy vessels. The autonomous robotic submarines are expected to be deployed in the early 2020s. While not intended to replace human-operated submarines entirely, the robotic submarines are aimed particularly at US forces in strategic waters like the South China Sea and western Pacific Ocean.  These developments illustrate yet again the imminent need to regulate semi-autonomous and autonomous weapons.

Explosive drones target Venezuelan president in assassination attempt

For all their potential, the utility of non-military drones as a weapon of war and terror is a terrible by-product of their proliferation. This reality has played out in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, where a speech delivered by President Nicolas Maduro was rocked by explosions that targeted Maduro who managed to get away unharmed. Police have arrested six people in relation to the attack. An anti-Maduro protest group, the National Movement of Soldiers in T-Shirts, have claimed responsibility for the attack. 

German “20 weeks for 20 bombs campaign” successfully comes to an end

One of Germany’s largest newspapers, Welt am Sonntag, published the frontpage headline “Do We Need the Bomb?”. The article is a response to US President Trump’s current rhetoric towards Berlin and NATO, where he questions the necessity of the alliance and singles out Germany, demanding it to reach the two per cent spending target of NATO members. Instead of indulging in fear mongering, we should shift the spotlight to German peace activists that broke into the Büchel military base, where US nuclear weapons are stationed. They have established a 20-week long peace camp across the German NATO base which houses about 20 US nuclear bombs. Leading anti-nuclear organisations joined in nonviolent protests on 9 August when the “20 weeks for 20 bombs” concluded.

Dangerous conditions at Britain's nuclear bomb factory prompting calls for a shut down

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has ordered immediate safety changes to be made at the UK’s nuclear warhead assembly facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Burghfield, in Berkshire. The ONR warns that, even with the changes, operations at the Berkshire site will be allowed to continue only for a limited period.

New nuclear weapon “pit” production might receive major funding boost

The US state of New Mexico is close to passing language in a major budget bill that would shore up Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) role in producing plutonium cores for nuclear weapons. In a portion of a US $727 billion defense bill passed by the House, LANL would be tasked with implementing “surge efforts” to make more than 30 plutonium “pits” a year to meet national defense and nuclear weapons policy. Thousands of pits produced during the Cold War are still in storage, raising serious questions about the necessity of this effort.

US re-imposed sanctions on Iran despite Tehran's compliance with the nuclear deal  

The United States said that it re-imposed economic sanctions on 7 August against Iran that were lifted under a 2015 nuclear accord. The sanctions are a consequence of US President Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from an international deal that sought to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions. However, international inspectors have concluded that Tehran is complying with the accord, raising serious concerns about the decision. Trump warned that anyone doing business with Iran would not be doing business with the US, ironically justifying this with his intention to create “world peace”.

New databases on gender and guns, and financial institutions, released

New data has been made available by civil society organisations in July and August. Weapon Free Funds, developed by CODEPINK and As You Sow, collects investment information about thousands of mutual funds from the top financial institutions. With a quick search, it is possible to see if a person’s money is invested in weapons makers and find alternative, socially-responsible investment options. 

GunPolicy.org published 28,482 new gender-disaggregated data points on its website, visualised in thousands of comparative charts and tables in French, Spanish and English. Newly added data categories count, for instance, male and female gun homicide and gun suicide victims as well as male and female unintentional gun deaths across hundreds of states and territories. To allow accurate comparisons between countries (and between states within countries), GunPolicy.org also added new rate categories.

US judge halts 3-D printed gun blueprints hours before planned release

Judge Robert Lasnik issued a temporary restraining order after eight US states and the District of Columbia filed a joint lawsuit to try and halt the release of a downloadable gun blueprint. Defense Distributed, the company behind the 3-D guns, had reached a settlement with the federal government in June that allowed it to make the plans for the guns available by 1 August 2018. The temporary restraining order follows considerable pressure from Senators and gun control groups. Nearly two dozen State Attorney Generals wrote a letter urging US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to immediately withdraw from the settlement because of the “reckless disregard to public safety that 3-D guns creates”. These views were echoed by gun control groups who wrote a letter to a federal judge in Texas, saying that they would seek an injunction to block Defense Distributed from publishing schematic designs for the guns online. President Trump will review the material. The lawyer representing Defense Distributed said that the company may appeal the restraining order but civil society groups continue to mobilise the public and support a Senator’s proposal for a bill to stop 3-D guns. 
For more background on the creation, distribution and regulation of 3-D guns, read the briefing paper by IANSA and Nonviolence International.

UK government confirms it has “liaison” officers in targeting rooms of Saudi air force bombing Yemen

The UK has effectively admitted to be complicit in the war crimes committed in Yemen. In responding to a question to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about whether UK personnel have had access to the targeting rooms of the Saudi Arabian air force, the UK confirmed it had assisted Saudi Arabia in “providing advice, information and assistance” to respond to “the threat from Houthi missiles”.  

US-backed Saudi-led coalition airstrike kills at least 29 children among dozens of killed civilians

A US-backed Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a bus in Yemen’s Houthi rebel-held north, killing 29 children, all under 15 years old. The children were on a bus heading back to school from a picnic at the time of the attack. Abdul-Ghani Sareeh, from the Sa’ada health department, told Reuters that the attack had killed 43 people and wounded 63. The Saudi-led coalition called the strike a “legitimate military action” and said that it conformed to international and humanitarian law. It accused the Iran-aligned Houthis of using children as human shields. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) Yemen country director, Frank McManus, said: “Today should be the day the world wakes up to the atrocities going on in Yemen … a bus full of school children cannot be viewed as mere collateral damage. Even wars have rules, but rules without consequences mean nothing. If there is any chance of innocent lives, especially those of children, being lost in an attack, that attack should not take place.” UN Secretary General António Guterres called for a prompt and independent investigation. The coalition has been criticised for repeatedly targeting civilian areas, including markets and hospitals, during the conflict, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives and left millions of people on the brink of starvation.

UK almost doubles arms sales to countries on government’s list of human rights abusers

Licences for arms deals worth some £1.5billion were approved in 2017, an increase from £820m a year earlier, according to figures compiled by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). Sales were granted to 18 countrieson the government’s own list of human rights abusers, including ChinaSaudi ArabiaBahrain, Israel, Egypt and Pakistan. The value of sales to Saudi Arabia alone totalled £1.13bn. CAAT’s Andrew Smith said: “There is little oversight in the system, and no controls over how these arms will be used once they have left the UK. The arms sales being agreed today could be used to fuel atrocities for years to come. Right now UK-made fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the Saudi-led destruction of Yemen, and the government and arms companies have totally failed to monitor or evaluate how this deadly equipment is being used”. Israel was the second-biggest buyer of UK arms in 2017 that also features on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) human rights priority list, with £221m of licences granted.

US weakens arms export controls to India

India will be granted the special designation of “Major Defence Partner” in order to significantly ease regulatory burdens on exports to India of US military goods. The so-called Strategic Trade Authorisation designation allows US defense companies to ship a wide range of goods, technology, and technical plans without having to obtain an export licence. The status currently applies to 36 countries—primarily NATO nations and close allies in Asia. Among other weapons, Washington has offered India the armed version of drones that were originally authorised for sale as unarmed and for surveillance purposes. If the deal comes to fruition, it would be the first time the United States has sold a large armed drone to a country outside the NATO alliance. A convenient side effect of the export authorisation is the prospect of big profits for US weapon manufacturers.  

Canada defiant after Saudi Arabia freezes new trade over human rights call

Canada refused to back down in its defence of human rights after Saudi Arabia froze new trade and investment and expelled the Canadian ambassador in retaliation for Ottawa’s call to free arrested Saudi civil society activists. In her first public response to Saudi Arabia’s actions, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “Canada will always stand up for human rights in Canada and around the world, and women’s rights are human rights.” On 5 August, Riyadh recalled its ambassador from Canada and gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave. The Saudi government also banned new trade with Canada, although it was unclear this will affect existing trade, which has a value of nearly C$15 billion defense contract. Canada had expressed concern over the arrests of activists in Saudi Arabia, including prominent women’s rights campaigner Samar Badawi, and called for their release. Riyadh said that amounted to “a blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs, against basic international norms and all international protocols.” The question remains of what the impact will be on a highly controversial deal brokered by the former Conservative government and upheld by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to let a Canadian company sell $15 billion worth of light armoured vehicles to the repressive regime. 

Syria’s “chemical weapons” research chief blown up in car bomb whilst OPCW points at gaps in Syria’s chemical weapons declaration

The head of a Syrian research facility that Western countries say was part of a chemical weapons program was killed when his car was blown up, according to the pro-Syrian government newspaper Al-Watan. Aziz Asber was the director of the Syrian Scientific Research Center in Masyaf, near the city of Hama, which Western governments say was a covert Syrian government installation. The attack on Asber was claimed by a Syrian rebel group affiliated to Tahrir Al-Sham, a rebel group. It includes the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which served as Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch. The Masyaf facility has previously been hit by what the Syrian government said were Israeli strikes in July and last year in September. An Israeli government official declined to comment on reports of Asber’s death.

More clarity is also needed on Syria’s declaration of its chemical weapons according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. There are still gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies and the number of issues needing a response has increased. The latest report from OPCW says that the Syrian government has remained engaged with the OPCW, but that the information it has provided has not resolved the issues.

US announced plans to initiate gene tuning program, risking to heighten international tensions in the biological field

The US military—specifically, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA—announced plans to initiate a “gene tuning” programme. Called “PREPARE” (short for “Pre-emptive Expression of Protective Alleles and Response Elements”), the programme aims to develop programmable modulators that temporarily boost protective genes, either before or after exposure, to biological, chemical, or radiological health threats. Inadvertently, however, the project may contribute to rising international tensions in the biological field. The program might push the limits of what is allowable under international security treaties, particularly the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). (Photo credit: ControlArms)

Recommended reading

Denise Davy, “86-year-old Hiroshima survivor is still fighting for a nuclear-free world,” UC Observer, July 2018

Linda Pentz Gunter, “A 90 million gallon nuclear tragedy,” Beyond Nuclear International, 16 July 2018

Lockout Lockheed: Melbourne students take direct action against university contract with Lockheed,” War Resisters’ International, 17 July 2018

Kjølv Egeland, “Kill the NPT Collapse Thesis,” European Leadership Network, 20 July 2018

Setsuko Thurlow, “Two minutes to midnight,” The Toronto Star, 5 August 2018

Will Geary, “The United States of Arms” - visualisation of US arms exports from 1950 to 2017 

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “Hiroshima & Nagasaki” – compilation of articles that offer ideas and observances on the bombings