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September 2018 E-News

In late August, Ghana’s capital Accra was host to the 32nd International Congress of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). The gathering of more than 200 feminist peace activists from around the world deeply inspired and motivated us to continue working together for sustainable peace. WILPF’s Secretary-General, Madeleine Rees, could not have put it better: “WILPF is a unique movement that will stay. WILPF is more than an NGO, it is who we are.” 

While some of the Reaching Critical Will (RCW) team participated in Congress, others headed to Tokyo to monitor the Fourth Conference of States Parties (CSP4) of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Unfortunately, some ATT states parties seemed to use the flurry of action around capacity building and information exchange to distract from the fact that they are not meeting all of their Treaty commitments. The following week, our team coalesced in Geneva, where we actively called for a total ban of fully autonomous weapon systems (AWS) during the sixth Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) meeting on this issue. Momentum is growing for new international law to prevent the development and deployment of weapons that would operate without meaningful human controlunfortunately, a handful of states (Australia, Israel, Russia, South Korea, and the United States) blocked the meeting from agreeing to start negotiations next year.

While we seem stymied in forums where countries making profits from weapons get to determine the pace of progress, other processes are forging ahead to challenge this status quo: more and more states are committing to sign or ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in Australia is doing everything in its power to raise awareness of the TPNW and encourage even more states to join, by cycling from Melbourne to Canberra on a Nobel Peace Ride

It is this spirit of strength, courage, and defiance by grassroots activists that gives Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the “best hope to a troubled world” through grassroots organising. It is this spirit of hope and commitment that we see when 200 WILPFers come together in Ghana, or when ICAN activists cycle 900 kilometres for peace. It is this spirit of hope that will keep us going and that we will bring to the next conference that is around the corner: the UN General Assembly.

In this edition:

  WILPF Congress – Building a Feminist Peace Movement

WILPF’s 32nd International Triennal Congress took place from 2022 August in Accra, Ghana under the theme “Building a Feminist Peace Movement”. The Congress is the highest decision-making body of WILPF, and all of its programmes and policies evolve from the incorporation of a broad range of WILPF members’ experiences and perspectives. The days were filled with many productive discussions, activities, and elections. In advance of the Congress, on 19 August, The Young WILPF Network got together in the Gertrud Baer Seminar, and on 18 August, the “Feminist Peace Movement in Africa ”Forum brought together more than 200 peace activists, and mobilised for feminist solidarity for strong and innovative nonviolent work in Africa. 

WILPF Congress Group Pic

During Congress, WILPF approved five new sections from Afghanistan, Chad, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. WILPF also admitted nine new groups in its peace-makers community, the first step towards becoming an officially recognised National Section. The WILPF community also elected a new International Board, and welcomed our new International President: Joy Ada Onyesoh from Nigeria, who has been an active member of WILPF since 2007. Other highlights included a surprise celebration for Reaching Critical Will’s Director Ray Acheson and her commitment to push for the adoption of the TPNW as steering committee member of the Nobel-Peace ICAN; and various workshop sessions on diverse but interrelated topics such as ‘feminist conflict root cause analysis’; ‘banning the bomb’; ‘building a feminist peace movement’; or’ environmental and climate justice’. WILPFers also converged in regional meetings, discussing a regional strategy to ban killer robots in Africa, and ways in which WILPF’s International Programme could best be implemented, and how deeper cross-regional collaboration could be achieved. (Photo credit: WILPF)

 Fourth Conference of States Parties (CSP4) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

The Fourth Conference of States Parties (CSP4) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) took place in Tokyo, Japan from 2024 August. As in previous meetings, states parties failed to meaningfully engage or address arms transfers that violate the Treaty’s provisions, including those to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Philippines, Cameroon, Nicaragua, or other recipients where there is a significant risk of human rights abuses and the flouting of international humanitarian law. 

ATT LogoThe Conference did advance decisions relating to proposed outputs from the Treaty’s three working groups, on universalisation, implementation, and transparency and reporting. Outputs include information resources that can aid in implementation and universalisation efforts, as well as initiatives to better understand the challenges that some states are experiencing in meeting reporting obligations, or setting up national control systems, as two examples. Sub-working groups on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) produced an outline of specific and mutually reinforcing touch points between SDG and ATT implementation. The CSP reflected overall the increased level of focus that states parties have given to the issue of weapons diversion in the last year.

Reaching Critical Will participated at CSP4 and provided daily monitoring and analysis through its ATT Monitor. RCW’s programme manager also participated in a side event hosted by Ireland and Control Arms focusing on implementation of the ATT’s gender-based violence (GBV) provision, where she described how GBV came to be included in the Treaty, and outlined WILPF’s initiatives to aid states with this obligation. Five years after the adoption of the ATT it’s becoming evident that this aspect of implementation is being overlooked or is misunderstood. (Photo credit: ATT Secretariat)

 UN talks on killer robots: Small number of military powers prevent any real progress

Killer robots pictureFrom 2731 August, the Conference on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) convened another Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on emerging technologies in the area of autonomous weapon systems (AWS). The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which WILPF is a steering committee member, urged states to be explicit that meaningful human control is required over the critical functions of target selection and engagement, and for each individual attack. Weapon systems that operate without such human control should be prohibited. The entire Reaching Critical Will team, as well as Sylvie Ndongmo of WILPF Cameroon, were there and provided monitoring and analysis throughout the week, available here. Ray Acheson, Director of RCW, spoke at a side event on Gender, AWS, and Disarmament, where an all-female panel took an intersectional approach to gender norms, technology, ethics and war, bias in programming, and diversity in disarmament. WILPF’s statement to the conference highlighted our concern at the increasing remoteness and abstraction of violence, and at the perpetuation and amplification of bias, where AWS are coded with masculinised power of death and domination. The statement reiterated the call to urgently start negotiations for a ban of AWS.

killer robots 2

Despite the majority of states supporting the prompt commencement to negotiate a new treaty to prevent the development of fully AWS, a small number of military powers have been actively preventing progress towards this goal. Shortly after the close of the meeting, the US Department of Defense announced a $2 billion investment in artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, clearly forging ahead towards a future where AWS are used in warfare. While the US and a few other countries were successful in ensuring that the GGE only recommended an extension of its discussion mandate for next year, fortunately, some governments stood up for human rights. They insisted on the inclusion of references to ethics and human rights in the conclusions of the meeting while others firmly and repeatedly objected to references to the alleged “benefits” of AWS. Further to this, the European Parliament just adopted a resolution calling for a ban on killer robots, sending a strong signal to all those committed to banning these weapons. (Photo credit: Campaign to Stop Killer Robots)

On the road to a future free of nuclear weapons

ICAN Australia Cycling ICAN Australia is currently mobilising Australians to join them in their Nobel Peace Ride tour from Sydney, where it left on 2 September, to Canberra where they will arrive on 20 September, exactly one year since the TPNW opened for signature. Increasing pressure on the Australian government to sign and ratify the Treaty, cyclists are carrying the Nobel Peace Prize medal with them, raising awareness of the Treaty’s existence on social media and in encounters with Australian citizens. If you are in Australia but cycling is not your thing, you can still get the WILPF Australia bus from Sydney to Canberra and join the march to parliament House on September 20 September here.

Reassuringly, support in Australia is growing, and 75 per cent of all federal Labour parliamentarians have pledged to work for Australia to sign and ratify the TPNW. Overwhelming support to ban the bomb has also come from one of the largest nuclear-armed states in the world: on 28 August, the California State Legislature passed a resolution that calls on the United States federal government to embrace the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, make nuclear disarmament the centrepiece of national security policy, and spearhead a global effort to prevent nuclear war. This strong support for the TPNW, a result of a collaborative effort among many US-based ICAN partner organisations and some forward-thinking lawmakers, is especially exciting as California is the largest state in the nation, with about 12 percent of the population living there, and has historically set the trend on progressive legislative and cultural change in the United States. Just one day later, 29 August, the UN International Day against Nuclear Tests reminded us yet again of the devastating consequences for human health and the environment of these weapons. Since 1945, more than 2,000 nuclear test explosions have been conducted around the world. 

ICAN Australia 2Other states have understood that joining the TPNW is the only way forward: Antigua and Barbuda and San Marino, among other states, announced that they will sign the Treaty on 26 September, the date of the next TPNW ceremony. On 4 September, the Cook Islands became the first state to accede to the TPNW, making it 60 signatories and 15 states parties! Furthermore, being in the process of ratification, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court has determined the constitutionality of the Treaty and requires now approval by the National Assembly; Kazakhstan announced it’s in the process of ratifying, and called on others to do so; El Salvador’s legislative approved the Treaty’s ratification; and Myanmar’s president has urged lawmakers to approve signature, to name but a few positive recent developments.  

On a more frustrating note, Switzerland decided to leave open the door to joining a nuclear alliance. This was a shocking abandonment of Switzerland’s neutrality and humanitarian principles. Swiss residents are now called upon to speak for themselves as a response to the Swiss government announcing that at this time, it will not sign the TPNW. If you are a Swiss resident, you can sign the petition, in German or French.

If you want to take further action to make nuclear weapons a thing of the past, you can join Pax’s Global Day of Action on 26 September, where pressure will mount for the French Bank BNB Paribas to stop investing in nuclear weapons. 

RCW has some upcoming nuclear ban events, too. Our director Ray Acheson will speak at Cornell University on 13 September about the “new movement” for nuclear disarmament, and at an all day workshop on 14 September honouring the legacy of Randall Forsberg, one of leaders of the Nuclear Freeze Movement. On 21 September, she’ll be in Toronto at No War 2018, a conference convened by World Beyond War to bring together peace movements and strategise for the abolition of war. On 23 September, she’ll join the Voice of Women for Peace Canada Brunch with Medea Benjamin to talk about feminist women shaping peace! Meanwhile, our manager Allison Pytlak will be in Scotland, addressing the Nae Nukes 2018 rally at Faslane on 22 September and speaking with other activists and parliamentarians about the nuclear ban! (Photo credit: ICAN Australia)

 UN General Assembly meetings and events

The 73rd session of the UN General Assembly begins on 18 September 2018. There are a number of events and meetings important to disarmament and arms control during its opening session this year, including:

UNGA high-level debate
From 25 September—1 October 2018, heads of state, foreign ministers, and other high-level officials will gather in New York to discuss urgent and emerging issues related to international peace and security. Each year, WILPF’s programmes in New York monitor the debate for references to disarmament and women’s rights. Reaching Critical Will posts all statements related to disarmament and arms control issues on an index on our website, starting 25 September.  

International Day for the total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
The UN General Assembly has designated 26 September as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. This Day provides an occasion for the world community to reaffirm its commitment to global nuclear disarmament as a high priority. It also provides an opportunity to educate the public—and their leaders—about the real benefits of eliminating such weapons, and the social and economic costs of perpetuating them. This year will provide an excellent opportunity for states to collectively sign or ratify the Treaty at a special ceremony at 17:00. The UN will also hold a commemoration, from which Reaching Critical Will will be posting statements and other information online as feasible. Our Director, Ray Acheson, will also deliver the ICAN statement to the commemoration.

UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security
It’s almost time for First Committee again! This annual UNGA conference focuses on disarmament and international security, producing resolutions and other collaborative initiatives aimed at advancing multilateral work on weapons-related issues. 2016 was the most exciting round in recent history, with the adoption of the resolution establishing negotiations of the nuclear weapon ban treaty. With the successful conclusion of those negotiations behind us, what will be the triumph of this year’s session? We have published our annual First Committee briefing book to help inform debate and provide recommendations to delegations (see below).

  New publications

Screen Shot 2018 09 12 at 09.25.33Published ahead of the 2018 UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, this briefing book provides an overview of the state of play on some of the most pressing disarmament and arms control issues. It also outlines recommendations for governments from some of the key civil society groups working on these topics. The civil society organisations, coalitions, and campaigns participating most actively at First Committee have argued consistently that we can and must replace watered-down outcomes with real results that advance human security and social and economic justice. 

Upcoming events

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

The New Nuclear Disarmament Movement
13 September 2018, Ithaca

Concert Across the World to End Gun Violence
20—30 September 2018

No War 2018
21—22 September 2018, Toronto

Shaping Peace Through Feminism
23 September 2018, Toronto

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

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

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

UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security
8 October—8 November 2018, New York

Humanitarian Disarmament Forum
13—14 October 2018, New York

 Featured news

Cluster munitions: North Korea continues to produce and stockpile, Syria continues to use these banned weapons

The Cluster Munition Coalition released a report on 30 August, exposing that North Korea continues to produce and stockpile cluster munitions. According to the report, Soviet-made cluster munitions flowed into at least 36 countries after the breakup of the Soviet Union, through which North Korea obtained and stockpiled them. It is yet to be confirmed if North Korea also used cluster munitions. As for Syria, it is the only remaining country that still does use cluster munitions, but denies doing so. On a more positive note, there is little evidence that the Saudi-Arabian led coalition continued to use cluster munitions in 2017, probably due to stigmatisation efforts.

Guns in the US: You can now vote to hold the most abusive corporations accountable 

By casting your ballot in the ‘Corporate Hall of Shame’, initiated by a broad coalition of US civil society organisations, you can expose and confront corporations that are contributing to gun violence, environmental degradation or human rights abuses. The ballot includes Beretta, a US gun manufacturer that funds the US National Rifle Association (NRA) and its obstruction of common sense gun safety measures. 

Concert Across the World to End Gun Violence 

The event began as a series of concerts taking place annually in cities across the US with the objective of raising awareness about the epidemic of gun violence. With the International Action Network on Small Arms’ (IANSA) support, this year organisers will take the event worldwide to increase global solidarity for peace and for the goal of reducing the misuse and proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Groups around the world are encouraged to join in singing the same song, recording a video of it, and uploading it to social media anytime between 20-30 September 2018. The song chosen for this global event is called "Shine," and it was written by students who survived the Parkland school shooting in the US earlier this year. For more information, see here.

Nuclear reservation fire: wildfire burned 3,000 acres on the US Hanford nuclear reservation

A thunderstorm was the likely cause of fires burning a large area of the nuclear reservation in the US state of Washington, close to Richland. While no buildings or areas with radioactive waste were involved, the reach included the original security zone around the nuclear reservation. 

IAEA says Iran is complying with nuclear deal restrictions but US argues its sanctions are legal

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Iran had complied with the caps on uranium enrichment levels, enriched uranium stocks and other items. In the meantime, the US argued at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that its newly reinstated sanctions on Iran are legal. A legal adviser for the US State Department appealed to the ICJ to reject a request from Iran to obligate the US to lift its sanctions. 

Trade of illegal weapons: the arms trade in the Horn of Africa fuels conflict

According to a report by EXX Africa, Djibouti’s increasing arms trafficking activities pose a serious threat to the security of the Horn of Africa. Over the past few years, Djibouti has emerged as an increasingly important hub for weapons trans-shipment to armed groups in the region. The trade of illegal weapons in the Horn of Africa remains highly lucrative and is entwined with transnational terrorist groups, drug smuggling, and the conflict in nearby Yemen—but the international community has been reluctant to address the issue, even despite evidence suggesting the involvement of Djiboutian officials in the arms trade. 

Yemen conflict: Spain reverses decision to cancel arms sales to Saudi Arabia after pressure from Riyadh 

Spain had announced to cancel the delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs bought by Saudi Arabia, expressing concern that these weapons could be used against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Thenew center-left administration of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had planned to return the 9.2 million euros ($10.6 million) already paid by the Saudis. However, after intense pressure from Saudi Arabia, Spain now reversed its decision. As a longtime commercial ally of Saudi Arabia, Spain is the fourth largest provider of military equipment and weapons to the Gulf state.

US military spending increases by $16 billion compared to previous fiscal year

US President Trump approved of the $716 billion defense budget for the next fiscal year starting October 1. The US will spend $40 billion on the Air Force upgrade, and $65 million on developing new low-yield nuclear warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The US Army’s personnel will be increased by 16,000 service members. This is likely to trigger an arms race with Russia, China, and Iran. The US’ decision to establish a sixth military service to accelerate the development and deployment of new technologies for space warfighting will further contribute to an outer space arms race.

US Defense Department to invest up to $2 billion over the next five years toward artificial intelligence research 

A week after UN talks on autonomous weapons wrapped up in Geneva, where the majority of countries tried to take action to prevent the development of killer robots, the US Department of Defense announced investments in artificial intelligence technologies. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a part of the Defense Department, seeks to fund research as part of a “Third Wave” campaign to develop systems that can learn and adapt to changing environments and to explore how “machines can acquire human-like communication and reasoning capabilities”. 

The US military is about to fly armed drones out of a US base in Niger in its shady “war against violent terrorism”

American armed drones, MQ-9 Reapers, will operate from new facilities that are being added—for almost $100 million—to an existing US base in Agadez, Niger, after a request by Niger’s defense minister in 2017. The request came after an attack that killed five Nigerien and four American soldiers. Previously, drones have only been used to collect intelligence on militant groups operating in the region. The Pentagon reiterated that US troops do not have a direct combat mission in Niger but that they are training Nigerien forces. However, the deaths of the US soldiers have raised concern about the mission.

ICAN: Seven Japanese financial institutions had transactions with nuclear weapons firms

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) found that seven Japanese financial institutions made loans or investments to companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons, totaling around 1,9 trillion yen over a four-year period. ICAN urged the institutions to stop transactions with those firms, to which two replied that they already stopped their involvement with the companies. The other five declined to comment. No financial institutions in Japan have guidelines explicitly banning themselves from providing investments or loans to companies that produce nuclear weapons. 

 Recommended reading

Medea Benjamin and Nicole J.S. Davies, War Profiteers: The US War Machine and the Arming of Repressive Regimes, September 2018

Merel Ekelhof, “Autonomous Weapons: Operationalising meaningful control,” International Review of the Red Cross, 15 August 2018 

Stuart Casey-Maslen, “Friend or Foe: The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the NPT,” Arms Control Law, 20 August 2018

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, “Grassroots leaders provide the best hope to a troubled world,” The Economist, 30 August 2018 

Gem Romuld and Lavanya Pant, “ICAN Nobel Peace Prize Ride: On the road to a future free of nuclear weapons,” The Herald, 8 September 2018

Ian Urbina, “California Tries New Tack on Gun Violence: Ammunition Control,” The New York Times, 9 September 2018