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October 2017 E-News

The past month has been a blur. On 19 September, Donald Trump threatened nuclear war with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. On 20 September, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons opened for signature. On 1 October, the United States experienced the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history (a history that is already filled with deadly mass shootings). On 6 October, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) won the Nobel Peace Prize. On 13 October, Trump refused to recertify the Iran nuclear agreement.

There’s a lot to digest here; it feels like we have ricocheted aggressively between the promise of dialogue and cooperation and the violence of unilateralism and fear. We at Reaching Critical Will believe that peace and dialogue will and must triumph over threats and violence.

At the UN General Assembly high-level debate in September, the crown prince of Jordan articulated the key challenge: “What does it say about our common humanity, when last year alone the world spent close to 1.7 trillion dollars on arms, but fell short by less than 1.7 billion in fulfilling the UN appeal to support Syrian refugees and host communities in countries like Jordan?” he asked other delegates. “What does it say when trillions are spent waging wars in our region, but little to take our region to safer shores? There are no good answers. The sad reality is that war economies are thriving to the benefit of a few, while real economies are suffering to the detriment of all.” The message, he said, is loud and clear: “there is no shortage of money for fighting evil, but the appetite for rewarding virtue is nearly non-existent; that the voice of those who defend and build is drowned out by those who attack and destroy.”

We must change the message. Banning nuclear weapons is part of this. Challenging the international arms trade is part of this. Ending the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is part of this. These are only a few things that we’re working on; their are countless other ways to change the message of violence to one of peace, from unilateral aggression to collaboration and communication.

In this edition:

ICAN wins the Nobel Peace Prize!

ICAN campaigners visit the UN Secretary-GeneralOn 6 October, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that it was awarding the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for its work on highlighting the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and its work to achieve the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This amazing news has led the nuclear ban to become an item of national and household discussion, with coverage of the award highlighted around the world. On behalf of WILPF, a member of the international steering group of ICAN, Ray Acheson participated in the UN press conference on 9 October and was part of the ICAN delegation to visit the UN Secretary-General (pictured).

This Prize is an acknowledgement of decades of campaigning against nuclear weapons, as well as the particular contributions of ICAN to achieving an historic instrument of international law. Since the first nuclear weapon tests in New Mexico in July 1945 to their horrific and inhumane use against citizens in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the thousands of tests around the world, activists have worked tirelessly to oppose the possession of these weapons on the basis their catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences. Women in particular have mobilised against these weapons, from blocking nuclear bases and convoys with their bodies to leading civil society advocacy, including through ICAN.

Nuclear weapon ban treaty opens for signature!

ICAN campaigners visit the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear WeaponsOn 20 September, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons opened for signature at the United Nations in New York. 42 states signed the Treaty during the opening ceremony; the number of states that have since signed continues to grow. So far, three states have also ratified the Treaty: Guyana, Holy See, and Thailand. 50 ratifications are necessary for the Treaty's entry into force. For a full list of signatories and ratifications, please see the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Last week, ICAN campaigners went to visit the Treaty at the UN Treaty Section (pictured).

Over the coming months, WILPF will be working with our partners in ICAN to encourage signatures and ratifications of this landmark Treaty. We’ll also be working with committed governments and international organisations to ensure that the full potential of this Treaty is realised—using the Treaty as a vital tool to show a clear alternative to the catastrophic risks posed by nuclear weapons.

Confronting nuclear war by demanding dialogue

As over 50 states were signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) were exchanging threats of nuclear annihilation. Such unacceptable warmongering and risk of nuclear war cannot be ignored and must end immediately.

In response to the threats, nearly 300 women leaders and several major women’s organisations from 45 countries, including the Republic of Korea, Japan, Guam, and the United States, called on the UN Secretary-General to immediately appoint a Special Envoy to de-escalate the threat of war now facing the Korean Peninsula. The International President and the Secretary General of WILPF endorsed the letter, which is also supported by former elected officials, Nobel Peace Laureates, leading academics, prominent activists, such as Angela Davis and Ai-jen Poo, bestselling authors, such as Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker and Naomi Klein, award-winning filmmakers such as Abigail Disney, and prominent philanthropists. Read their letter >>

The crisis of the international arms trade

The international arms trade is killing civilians in so many countries its difficult to keep up. The profits being made by arms producers and exporting countries are so vast its difficult to count. And this is three years after the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). When the ATT was being negotiated, states repeatedly warned against developing an instrument that would become a paper tiger. By this they meant something that appears threatening but is ultimately ineffective. But we are seriously at risk of this Treaty becoming just that—because states parties and signatories apparently are more interested in profiting from global violence than helping to end it.

The Third Conference of States Parties to the ATT, held in Geneva in September, demonstrated an incredible failure of governments to address violations of the Treaty’s core provisions. WILPF delivered a statement on this situation; provided daily analysis and critiques; and participated in three side event discussions, on preventing gender-based violence through the ATT; on the relationship between human rights and the arms trade; and even one demonstrating and challenging the ongoing problem of “mansplaining” in disarmament (and pretty much everywhere else). The WILPF delegation, pictured here, included staff from the disarmament and human rights programmes and the president of WILPF's DRC Section.

At the same time as delegates at CSP3 discussed procedural and budgetary issues for a week, the world’s biggest arms fair set up shop in London. By the first day of CSP3, over 100 people had been arrested blockading the set-up of the arms fair. For seven days, activists blocked traffic with their bodies in order to prevent trucks with weapons from reaching the ExCeL centre in the Docklands. After that, artists opened an art fair featuring scathing critiques of war profiteering.

Challenging armed drones

WILPF has been active on drones over the past month. On 13 September, 19 civil society organisations including WILPF raised concerns about the weakness and inadequacy of a US-led initiative to limit the spread of armed drone technology, which does not address the need to define the acceptable limits of armed drone use.

Then, as the United Nations met to review its Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons on 27 and 28 September, WILPF launched a new research report on Djibouti indicating that foreign military bases there may be contributing to sexual violence in that country, including possible human trafficking and forced prostitution. The report, Remote warfare and sexual violence in Djibouti, builds upon the work of two investigative journalists from the Netherlands, Sanne Terlingen and Hannah Kooy. While many human rights and disarmament groups are carefully tracking humanitarian harm caused by drone strikes in locations they are used, there has not yet been sufficient investigation into the humanitarian harms from where drones are launched. The US uses its base in Djibouti to launch drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia. China just opened its first foreign military base in Djibouti in August 2017. France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Russia, Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom also have bases or troops operating out of Djibouti. Djibouti is on the US State Department’s watch list for trafficking in persons due to the high risks of trafficking and lack of effective prevention, protection, or prosecution policies. Foreign soldiers, including those of the United States and France, have been found engaged in illegal sexual activities with women and girls, though so far only one case has resulted in prosecution. Find out more with the report >>

Finally, on 13 October, WILPF launched a research study on the Humanitarian impact of drones together with Article 36 and the International Disarmament Institute at Pace University. With contributions from academics, legal analysts, and survivors of armed drones, this report aims to refocus the debate about drones on the harm caused to people by these weapons as specific technologies of violence. It examines the significant challenges raised by drones to international law, human rights, ethics and morality, peace and security, environmental protection, development, transparency, surveillance, privacy, policing, gender equality, and more.

First Committee underway

Amidst all of the political developments, the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security has been meeting in New York. Reaching Critical Will has been providing coverage through our weekly First Committee Monitor, as well as posting statements and resolutions online.

Upcoming events

UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security
2 October–2 November 2017, New York

Group of Governmental Experts on lethal autonomous weapon systems
13–17 November 2017, Geneva

Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons meeting of high-contracting parties
22–24 November 2017, Geneva

Featured news

Shooter kills 58, injures 546 in mass shooting in Las Vegas

On 1 October, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada, fired hundreds of rifle rounds from his suite on the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel. About an hour after Paddock fired his last shot, he was found dead in his room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The incident is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the United States.

Trump refuses to recertify Iran nuclear deal

On 13 October, US President Donald Trump announced he would not continue to certify the agreement to Congress, but stopped short of immediately cancelling US participation in the deal. Others have noted the false arguments made against the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA), which when negotiated in 2015 was aimed at ensuring that nearly 40-year feud between the US and revolutionary Iran did not mutate into a confrontation between two nuclear states. ICAN criticized the decision to undermine the JCPOA in a statement on 13 October.

UK government invites human rights abusers to biennial arms fair

The list of countries formally invited to send high-level delegations to the Defence and Security International Exhibition (DSEI in London in September 2017 included five countries on the government’s own “human rights priority” register drawn up because of concern over abusive treatment of their citizens.

More than 100 activists arrested blockading London arms fair

More than 100 people were arrested as they tried to prevent weapons companies from setting up their stands at the DSEI arms fair, as part of actions organised by Stop the Arms Fair.

UK arms sales to “repressive regimes” soar to £5 billion since election

UK arms manufacturers have exported almost £5bn worth of weapons to countries that are judged to have repressive regimes in the 22 months since the Conservative party won the last election. The huge rise is largely down to a rise in orders from Saudi Arabia, but many other countries with controversial human rights records – including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Venezuela and China – have also been major buyers.

US bombs school and market in Syria, killing civilians

A new report from Human Rights Watch investigates the bombing by US airstrikes of a school and marketplace that killed dozens of civilians in Syria in March 2017. As The Intercept points out, “A spate of deadly bombings in recent months by the U.S. against marketplaces, schools, and mosques in Syria and Iraq have raised alarms about the type of intelligence the U.S. is using to carry out airstrikes, as well as the criteria being used to determine whether civilians are present at the targeted sites.”

US doubles number of covert airstrikes in Yemen under Trump

The number of covert American airstrikes in Yemen more than doubled in 2017, rising to 93 compared with a total of 40 the previous year, according to figures from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Australians turn in 26,000 guns in national amnesty

It is illegal to own an unregistered firearm in Australia. The government is running an amnesty from 1 July to 30 September for Australians to surrender unregistered firearms and related items without fear of prosecution.

Amnesty exposes illicit US$46m South Sudan arms deal

Research released by Amnesty International reveals how a British shell company acted as an intermediary in huge prospective arms deals to war-torn South Sudan and other countries by exploiting regulatory gaps. Such gaps are making the UK a hotspot for companies involved in illicit arms transfers. Commercial documents name S-Profit Ltd, a tiny UK-registered company, as the ‘supplier’ in a 2014 deal to provide at least US$46m worth of small arms, light weapons and ammunition to the South Sudanese government. The report, From London to Juba: a UK-registered company’s role in one of the largest arms deals to South Sudan, also reveals that the UK government has been aware of similar practices taking place on British soil for more than eight years, without taking effective regulatory action. The UK is a vocal proponent of an arms embargo on South Sudan. This deal further contravenes British arms export policy and commitments under the Arms Trade Treaty, of which Ukraine and United Arab Emirates, the two other countries implicated in this deal, are also signatories.

US Commerce Department may acquire responsibility for arms exports
The Trump administration is expected to propose regulations that would likely transfer responsibility for reviewing licenses to export certain types of weapons—including assault-style rifles and pistols and armor-piercing sniper rifles—from the State Department to the Commerce Department. This would increase the risk of exports to unauthorised end users and conflict zones and could compromise the United States’ ability to investigate and prosecute arms smugglers. In addition, Commerce Department regulations are not tied to all federal laws that regulate security assistance, including the commercial export of defense articles to foreign governments that support terrorism, violate internationally recognised human rights norms or interfere with humanitarian operations as well as country-specific controls imposed on nations of concern. A shift to the Commerce Department would likely complicate, if not end, State Department reviews of a recipient's human rights violations. Other risks include a reduction in transparency, and turning back the clock on norms in firearms trade.

US may soften its drone policies
US President Trump's top national security advisers have proposed relaxing two rules from the administration of former president Obama. The New York Times have reported that changes include broadening the targets of kill missions by the military and the CIA to include foot-soldier fighters with no special skills or leadership roles, and that proposed drone attacks and raids would no longer undergo high-level vetting. The international human rights organisation Reprieve has found that since Trump took office in January this year, at least 30 civilians have been killed in ground raids and drone attacks in Yemen, where the US is not formally at war.

Recommended reading

Conventional weapons

Warda Mohamed and Tony Fortin, “How France Participates in the Yemen Conflict,” Orient XXI, 12 September 2017

Rebecca Radcliffe, “UK ministers attend weapons fair but ignore UN event on illicit arms trade,” The Guardian, 12 September 2017

Lizzie Dearden, “Inside the world’s biggest arms fair in London,” The Independent, 13 September 2017

Madeleine Rees, “Investigating Foreign Military Bases and Sexual Violence in Djibouti,” Huffington Post, 27 September 2017

James Fallows, “Two Dark American Truths From Las Vegas,” The Atlantic, 2 October 2017

Daniel Mack, “What happened in Vegas can’t stay in Vegas,” Medium, 3 October 2017

Nuclear weapons

Sharon Aschaiek, “A New Generation Seeks to ‘Ban the Bomb’,” UofT Magazine, Autumn 2017

Paul Meyer and Ramesh Thakur, “Canada’s nuclear disarmament is make-believe,” The Globe and Mail, 29 September 2017

Nuclear Ban Group ICAN Wins Nobel Peace Prize as Trump Threatens to End Iran Deal & Nuke North Korea,” Democracy Now!, 6 October 2017

Tim Wright, “Will our Nobel peace prize convince Australia to give up nuclear weapons?” The Guardian, 8 October 2017

Geoffrey Vendeville, “U of T grads pushing for end to nuclear weapons part of international coalition that received Nobel Peace Prize,” U of T News, 13 October 2017