September 2019 E-News
This year, Reaching Critical Will turns 20 years old!
It seems incredible how far we’ve come. In 1999, the Women’s International for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) set up RCW to deal with issues related to nuclear disarmament, with a focus on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). WILPF felt at the time that there was a lack of consistent coordination of civil society input into the NPT and other efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament, and also saw the need for feminist analysis of these efforts. Over time, RCW has also become engaged in other antimilitarist efforts, including those related to the international arms trade, small arms and light weapons, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, killer robots, armed drones, and cyber peace.
Our September E-News provides a snapshot of many of those areas of work, reporting back, amongst others, on the recently concluded Fifth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (CSP5), the UN meetings on autonomous weapons (GGE on LAWS), and the Open-ended Working Group on cyber security (OEWG).
To celebrate our milestone, we need YOU! Please share your favourite memories, photos, or highlights for use during upcoming (virtual) celebrations and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org by 1 October 2019. We look forward to reminiscing with you and are excited for all that is to come!
In this edition
- CSP5 adopts final report, including decisions for advancing work on gender and gender-based violence
- As the UN killer robots discussions conclude for 2019, Russia and the US continue to race to the bottom
- UN's new cyber working group meets in New York
- Cities and states advancing nuclear disarmament
- Ending the use of explosive weapons in populated areas
- UN General Assembly meetings and events
- New publications from WILPF: First Committee briefing book; gendered impacts of military operations in Mosul
- New reports: Human rights bodies address human rights impacts of firearms, and gender dimensions of private military and security companies
- Upcoming events
- Featured news
- Recommended reading
From 26 to 31 August, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Fifth Conference of States Parties (CSP5) met in Geneva to advance the Treaty’s implementation. This year, the conference and its preparatory meetings focused as priority theme on gender and gender-based violence (GBV).
In the final report, ATT states parties adopted a package of decisions that will hopefully serve as a foundation to strengthen implementation of article 7(4) relating to the GBV risk assessment, enhance gender diversity, and improve understanding of the gendered impact of armed violence.
While there was no major divergence on the gender package, delegations did not agree at first on the topic of financial considerations. Delegations from the global south raised concerns about the increasing threat of restricting or limiting their access, while European delegations emphasised that non-payment of assessed contributions has led the ATT to a point of extreme financial difficulty. Eventually states did find a solution, albeit possibly a temporary one, and thus CSP5 was able to conclude successfully. For an in-depth analysis of the final report, check out our last ATT Monitor.
During the Treaty’s negotiation, WILPF advocated for the inclusion of a GBV provision in the Treaty. We have since promoted the inclusion of a holistic gender analysis in the ATT’s implementation. In light of this year’s priority theme, a diverse delegation joined us for the week to reiterate those calls, with WILPF Section members from Colombia, Burkina Faso, DRC, Sri Lanka, and a representative from Yemen from our partner organisation Peace Track Initiative.
Annie Matundu-Mbambi, president of WILPF DRC, participated in the high-level opening panel introducing this year’s priority theme.
Throughout the week, our team drew attention to the gendered impacts of the arms trade in local and national contexts, and called for the inclusion of diverse actors and perspectives if the ATT is to live up to its promises. The WILPF delegation participated in a side event to offer powerful national and local accounts of how arms control is vital for preventing GBV. They also participated in other side events, including one organised by the Parliamentary Forum on Small Arms and Light Weapons and the Permanent Mission of Sweden, featuring Prathapa Tiranagma from WILPF Sri Lanka; and another organised by Small Arms Survey, featuring Regina Ouattara from WILPF Burkina Faso, as well as RCW’s Allison Pytlak.
Ahead of CSP5, WILPF, together with the Permanent Mission of Ireland, co-hosted an interactive and informal workshop on gender, GBV, and the ATT. The workshop allowed for in-depth discussions exploring opportunities and challenges in advancing gender perspectives within the ATT context, including the implementation of the ATT’s provision on GBV, and left participants with an appetite to keep the conversation going.
Read more about the workshop in this issue of the ATT Monitor.
Pictures: Ray Acheson, Irina Popa, Permanent Mission of Canada
The final round of 2019 talks of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) met from 20-21 August in Geneva under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), following an informal meeting on Monday, 19 August. While most of the 93 states participating in the CCW talks on killer robots have expressed their strong desire to develop new measures to retain human control over the use of force, a handful of states, spearheaded by Russia and the US, ensured that nations could not agree to any meaningful recommendations for tackling the serious challenges raised by autonomous weapon systems. The two day meeting resulted in the adoption of a final report, but this report’s disappointing content is only matched by its unambitious process for the way ahead. The CCW’s annual meeting in November will decide the future of the UN talks on killer robots. But if the CCW cannot produce any credible outcome, alternative pathways must be pursued to avoid a future of autonomous warfare and violence.
As part of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, RCW’s team provided daily coverage through our CCW Report and live Tweeting, and collected relevant conference material, including statements, on our website.
In stark contrast to anticlimactic dynamics in UN conference rooms, activists with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots can’t be stopped! The Campaign is growing by the day, with currently 114 member organisations in 58 countries! At the margins of the UN meeting, PAX, a member of the Campaign’s steering committee, published the new report Don’t be Evil? on tech companies that risk contributing to the development of killer robots. It looked at big tech companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, as well as start-ups working on military applications of AI. The report finds that just seven out of the 50 companies it investigated partake in "best practices" to mitigate the risk of the development of killer robots. Twenty-one firms, including the likes of Amazon and Microsoft, were marked as "high concern." The Campaign does not tire of producing new content to further advance global mobilisation. This animation Will autonomous weapons spark wars? is currently available in Russian and English, and the Campaign’s website has a new section on tech, with useful explanations of the killer robots issue and a helpful Ten Ways for Tech Workers to Get Involved post.
On a national level, Mary Wareham, the Campaign’s global coordinator, made a whirlwind visit to Japan, calling on the country’s leaders to cooperate with like-minded nations to open negotiations on a new treaty to ban killer robots.
Over in Ghana, WILPF Ghana also continues to support the movement, and recently held various meetings with parliamentarians in the country, encouraging them to actively champion the negotiation of a treaty prohibiting killer robots.
Pictures: Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, Ayo Ayoola-Amale, WILPF Ghana
The first substantive session of the UN’s new Open-ended working group (OEWG) on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security took place from 9-13 September. Discussion covered the six subjects of threats; international law; rules, norms, and principles; institutional dialogue; confidence building measures; and capacity building. Chaired by Ambassador Jürg Lauber of Switzerland, the session was marked with an overall positive atmosphere and good dialogue, although states continue to have differences in a few key areas, namely the applicability of international law, specifically international humanitarian law, to cyber space; the extent to which human rights are relevant to discussions of international security in cyber space; and if the acts of non-state actors are relevant to the OEWGs discussions. In its statement, WILPF highlighted the dangers of a militarised cyber space. It also spoke out against the unprecedented decision to prevent 18 non-governmental organisations from attending the session and highlighted the necessity for a gender analysis in matters of cyber security. WILPF provided coverage and analysis of the meeting through its new Cyber Peace & Security Monitor.
On 29 August, the International Day against Nuclear Tests, Kazakhstan deposited its instrument of ratification for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), becoming the 26th state party. Kazakhstan’s ratification on that day carries a special meaning: Exactly 28 years ago, its nuclear tests site was closed in the country. The country had to endure more than 450 Soviet nuclear tests from 1949 to 1989, with devastating health impacts for its population.
26 September presents another historic opportunity for states to sign and ratify the TPNW. On the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, the United Nations will host another signing ceremony for the Treaty (see below for more information on this event). Many states have already signaled that they will either sign or ratify the Treaty on that day, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, new cities are joining the ICAN Cities Appeal every day, including Anchorage, the most populous city in the US state of Alaska, as well as Zurich in Switzerland! The ICAN Parliamentary Pledge also continues to make waves. On 11 September, US Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin became the seventh serving member of the US Congress to sign the Pledge. Over 1,000 legislators in 30 countries have so far signed the Pledge, which commits them to working for the entry into force of the TPNW.
Activists continue to work tirelessly on the ground to mobilise support among the public. A powerful way of doing so has recently been the screening of the documentary “The Beginning of the End” in different parts of the world. Next to English, the film is now also available in French and German, and can be an effective tool to raise awareness about the devastating impacts of nuclear weapons, and the hope that the TPNW provides to eliminate them. Earlier in September, RCW’s Ray Acheson introduced the film, followed by its screening, in Brooklyn, NY. In Alaska, Ray along with Kathleen Sullivan of ICAN partner Hibakusha Stories met with students, activists, and the mayor to raise the importance of nuclear abolition and the TPNW, including through a public event hosted by the Anchorage Museum. Over in Australia, the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra currently features ICAN co-founder Tilman Ruff in its exhibition of photographic portraits of contemporary figures which will certainly reach a wide audience. Tilman and another co-founder, Dimity Hawkins, have also just been awarded the Order of Australia.
Image photo: Ashish Mahajan
From 1-2 October, the government of Austria will host an international conference on protecting civilians from urban warfare. WILPF, as a member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), will attend the conference to advocate for an end to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in order to reduce human suffering. WILPF has long advocated for a complete stop to bombing in towns and cities as a violation of international humanitarian law and human rights, leading to the death and injury of civilians, destruction of civilian infrastructure, mass displacement, and acute gendered harms.
Ahead of this meeting, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations have issued a joint appeal urging all conflict parties to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. ICRC President Peter Mauer and UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed alarm “at the devastating humanitarian consequences of urban warfare” and noted, “The harrowing images from population centres in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine – to name but a few – show a pattern of grave civilian harm impossible to ignore, yet too often forgotten.”
The 74th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) began on 17 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 24-30 September 2019, 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. As it does each year, RCW will monitor the debate for references to disarmament and will post all statements related to disarmament and arms control issues on an index on our website, starting 24 September.
International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
The UNGA has designated 26 September 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. The UN will hold a commemoration of the Day, from which RCW will be posting statements and other information online as feasible. This year will once again also provide an excellent opportunity for states to sign or ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at a special ceremony at 17:00.
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. 2018 saw the highest number of references to gender in adopted resolutions ever. An unprecedented 17 resolutions included gender perspectives. In 2016, the adoption of the resolution establishing negotiations of the TPNW was another major highlight coming out of First Committee in recent years. With the successful conclusion of those negotiations behind us, and gender considerations increasingly becoming a key consideration in this forum and beyond, 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).
First Committee briefing book 2019
Published ahead of the 2019 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.
We Are Still Here: Mosulite Women 500 Days After the Conclusion of the Coalition Military Operation
WILPF has released a comprehensive report about the gendered impacts of military operations in Mosul, Iraq. During this operation, all parties to the conflict displayed disregard for the human rights of the local civilian populations, including through the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and gender-based violence. Almost two years after Mosul was declared ‘liberated’ from Daesh, 1.8 million displaced Iraqis remain unable to return to their homes and large parts of the city are entirely destroyed. While people of all sexes and gender identities are all enduring the repercussions of Daesh’s rule and subsequent military operations and displacement, women and girls are disproportionately impacted under both settings. It is crucial, therefore, to analyse the impact of the military operation on the city, the population and social cohesion within the community from a feminist, civilian-entered perspective and challenge toxic security partnerships that reinforce the drivers of conflict and force militarised security on the civilian population. This report is aimed at UN member states and other international actors as a means to urge them to understand the devastating impact military operations have on women and take lessons on board as they set and implement future responses to conflicts in Iraq and the region.
For the past few years, UN human rights bodies have increasingly scrutinised the issue of firearms and arms transfers and their relationship to human rights violations. WILPF welcomes this development, and has contributed to the discussion with various submissions on the topic to treaty bodies and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Most recently, OHCHR published a report on the Impact of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights for consideration at the UN Human Rights Council 42nd session (HRC), which is currently underway. WILPF made a submission to the report, which focussed on the gendered impacts on human rights of the acquisition, possession, and use of firearms. While the report draws attention to the particular impact on the human rights of women, children, adolescents, and members of ethnic minorities, such analysis should have gone further by applying a holistic gender analysis, and by looking, for example, at the specific gendered impacts on men and boys, and persons of diverse and marginalised sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions. The report also omits to include discussions around the economic and social impacts on women caused by non-lethal harm by firearms. For further analysis, read WILPF’s statement to the HRC commenting on the report.
Meanwhile, the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries released a report on the gendered impacts of private military and security companies (PMSCs). The report will be subject of debate at the UN General Assembly on 30 October. WILPF contributed to this report with a theoretical framing of the issue. The final report applies a thorough gender analysis of a wide array of aspects of an issue that, in light of its devastating impacts, has not received the attention that it deserves. The report sheds light on the gendered human rights risks and impacts of PMSCs, identifies key gender considerations for those affected, particularly employees of such companies and communities in places where they operate, examines the gendered impacts of the privatisation of security, and highlights allegations of gender-based human rights abuses. The Working Group calls for a gender-transformative agenda within the industry, and includes invaluable recommendations to advance such an agenda.
International Day of Peace
UN General Assembly high-level general debate, 74th session
24–30 September, New York
Vienna Conference on Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare
1–2 October, Vienna
2019 New Shape Forum: Weapons Governance
30 September–1 October, Geneva
Keep Space for Peace Week
5–12 October, Global
UN General Assembly First Committee, 74th session
7 October–8 November, New York
After the break up of bilateral agreement between the US and Russia, a new arms race is underway
After the mysterious explosion at a remote testing facility in Russia in early August, the US tested a new cruise missile that was banned under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). As a response, Russia’s leader Putin expressed a desire to come up with a “symmetrical response” to the latest US test.
Saudi Arabia urges international community to work on an international accord about Iran’s nuclear programme
Saudi Arabia’s new permanent representative to the United Nations in Vienna called for a comprehensive accord about Iran’s nuclear programme during the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors’ meeting. The accord should ensure constant monitoring and controlling of Iran’s nuclear programme and its military sites. This coincides with recent statements by US Secretary of the Treasury that the US is still applying “maximum pressure” on Iran, despite the departure of the hardliner National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities escalate tensions in the Middle East
Drone attacks on two major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia put on hold more than half of crude output from the world’s top exporter which is five per cent of the global oil supply. Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been at war with the Saudi-UAE-led coalition since 2015, claimed responsibility for the attacks that were carried out with ten drones, warning that their targets “will keep expanding.” The US administration accused Iran of being behind the assault, but without providing any evidence, and hinted at possible military action.
Germany to extend halt on arms exports to Saudi Arabia
Germany will continue to halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia because of the war in Yemen and the Social Democrats’ refusal to drop opposition to lifting the moratorium. The halt on arms exports was last extended at the end of March. Without another extension, it would have expired on 30 September.
56 German and international non-governmental organisations have published an open letter, calling on the German government to convert the moratorium into a ban on arms exports to the Saudi-UAE-led coalition.
UK Secretary of State for International Trade admits illegally approving arms sales to Saudi Arabia
UK Secretary of State for International Trade said her department had “inadvertently” illegally approved two licences for the sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The transfers came only weeks after a landmark verdict from the Court of Appeal, which concluded that the government had acted “irrationally” and “unlawfully” by continuing to arm the ongoing Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen. As a result of the verdict, which followed a case brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), the government was ordered not to approve any new licences to Saudi for use in Yemen and to retake all the decisions on existing licences in a legally compliant manner. A review has been ordered by the Department of International Trade to find out why these breaches occurred, and, just as importantly, whether there are other such cases. Andrew Smith of CAAT notes, “Opposition politicians have called for Truss to resign, but this alone would not address the systematic failings that allowed the sales to happen. These breaches are the result of a longstanding and shameful policy of maximising arms sales regardless of the consequences.”
Human rights groups protest as world arms fair returns to London
Activists have protested Europe’s biggest arms fair in London’s Docklands that took place from 10-13 September. The Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) event has increased by size by 7 per cent compared to last year, helped by the unwavering support of British cabinet ministers and senior officials. At least 200 protestors demonstrated for seven days on end outside the exhibition centre and blocked one of the nearby roads. Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, also told arms fair organisers “to get out of London”. At least 116 people have been arrested for offences including aggravated trespass and obstruction of the highway near the convention centre. UK head of exports for the Ministry of Defence said that despite the insecurities of Brexit, “the future of our defence sector is a very bright one.” Campaigners accuse the government of putting in a disproportionate effort to support the arms industry.
Amnesty International’s new report exposes major industry players’ lack of measures to comply with human rights due diligence obligations
The report Outsourcing Responsibility by Amnesty International shows that major arms producing companies, such as Airbus, BAE Systems, and Raytheon are not undertaking adequate human rights due diligence measures which could prevent their products from being used in potential human rights violations and war crimes. Amnesty International investigated 22 arms companies in 11 countries. Out of 22 companies contacted, 14 did not respond at all. Those that did were not able to adequately explain how they meet their human rights responsibilities and demonstrate proper due diligence. Amnesty International is calling on defence companies to vet clients’ past performance against human rights benchmarks; build high expectations of compliance with international human rights law into contracts; continuously monitor and periodically audit client performance; and use leverage to influence the behaviour of clients.
Arms Trade Treaty enters into force for Canada
Ninety days after Canada deposited its instrument of ratification to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the Treaty has entered into force on 19 September. The ATT aims to create common arms trade standards between states parties. Activists and academics urge Canada to stop exporting Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia. They are calling on the federal government to immediately suspend or cancel the arms exports agreements with Saudi Arabia as these exports do not comply with ATT standards.
Preparations for Mine Ban Treaty Review Conference underway
On 18 September, the Second Preparatory Meeting for the Oslo Review Conference on a Mine-Free World, scheduled for 25-29 November, took place in Geneva. It provided an opportunity for delegations to have a detailed discussion on key documents, including a draft review, a draft action plan and draft elements for a political declaration, as well as proposed decisions on the Convention’s machinery and meetings.
Danity Laukon, “My fish is your fish,” MISA, July 2019
Cassandra Stimpson and William Hartung, “US arms sales to Saudi Arabia: The corporate connection,” Center for International Policy, July 2019
AJ Dellinger, “Microsoft, Amazon and other big tech companies are putting as at risk of a “killer AI,” study says," Mic, 22 August 2019
Laura Nolan, “Why tech workers should oppose #KillerRobots,” Medium, 27 August 2019
Gugu Dube, “Is Africa ready for weapons that call their own shots?”, Institute for Security Studies, 28 August 2019,
“Gender in small arms control,” Small Arms Survey podcasts, 30 August 2019
Melissa K. Chan, “China and the US are fighting a major battle over killer robots and the future of AI,” Time, 13 September 2019
Henry McDonald, “Ex-Google worker fears ’killer robots’ could cause mass atrocities,” The Guardian, 15 September 2019
Murtaza Hussain, “War on the World: Industrialized Militaries Are a Bigger Part of the Climate Emergency Than You Know,” The Intercept, 15 September 2019
Andrew Smith, “How is it possible for the government to claim it sold military equipment to Saudi Arabia ‘accidentally’?,” The Independent, 18 September 2019
“Nuclear weapons and our climate,” ICAN Australia, September 2019
“The Waiting List: Addressing the immediate and long-term needs of victims of explosive weapons in Syria,” Humanity & Inclusion, 2019