December E-News

In 2019, Reaching Critical Will (RCW) celebrated its 20 year anniversary. Over the course of two decades, we have been engaged in a broad range of feminist antimilitarist
efforts, including those related to nuclear weapons, the international arms trade, small arms and light weapons, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, killer robots, armed drones, and cyber peace. 

Throughout these years, Reaching Critical Will has always sought to think the unthinkable and to push boundaries. RCW has lived and worked by activist Angela Davis’ powerful observation that, “you have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”

It is also in this spirit that we braved 2019, a year of extraordinary tumult. Challenges to international disarmament efforts have included the break down of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States’ revoking of signature from the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), continued tensions on the Korean peninsula, ongoing arms sales to Saudi Arabia exacerbating the horrific war in Yemen, and heightened tensions between Iran and parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) after the US’ withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in 2018 – to name but a few.

Despite this bleak backdrop, RCW has made significant strides towards the radical transformation of the world. (Photo credit: Ari Beser)

It is that time of the year where we highlight five key areas in which WILPF’s disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will and our partners have championed peace in 2019.

Please consider helping to sustain our work in 2020. There are many ways you can give: you can sign up for a one-time donation or a monthly pledge through PayPal, or you can write a cheque to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and mail it to WILPF, 777 UN Plaza, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10017, USA (with “Reaching Critical Will” in the memo line). You can also send money orders or wire transfers—just email us for details!

Thank you for considering us in your holiday giving this year. Happy holidays and best wishes for the year ahead!


Promoting the Arms Trade Treaty's gender-based violence prevention provision

RCW played an active role in many initiatives to promote the gender-based violence (GBV) provision of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in 2019, especially in light of the focus given to this aspect of the Treaty in connection with its Fifth Conference of States Parties (CSP5). 

Inclusion of GBV in the ATT was the result of sustained advocacy from WILPF and other partners through its Make it Binding! campaign in 2012 and 2013. 

The focus on gender and GBV for CSP5 enabled greater space to continue our work to improve understanding about the gendered impacts of the international arms trade and to spur preventive action. We contributed our expertise through statements, side events, and contributing to workshops, trainings, and resources developed by other organisations. In particular, 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. 

WILPF sections from Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) prepared research briefings ahead of CSP5 on the relationship between arms transfers, gender, and GBV in their local and national contexts. A diverse delegation joined RCW for CSP5 with WILPF 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. The WILPF delegation also spoke in WILPF’s side event to offer powerful national and local accounts of how arms control is vital for preventing GBV. 

WILPF, together with the Permanent Mission of Ireland, also co-hosted an interactive and informal workshop on gender, GBV, and the ATT ahead of CSP5. 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. In many ways the workshop built on a side event that WILPF and Ireland organised during informal ATT meetings in April 2019, that demonstrated how the ATT’s requirements on GBV prevention align with with obligations under human rights conventions and the Women, Peace and Security agenda. 

At CSP5, 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 criterion, enhance gender diversity, and improve understandings of the gendered impact of armed violence. It is now important that words are followed by long-term and sustained action, which is true for all aspects of ATT implementation, particularly as weapons exports continue to flow into contexts of armed conflicts and violence. WILPF remains deeply committed to assisting states in clarifying obligations around the provision, as well as making sure that the perspectives of those who have experienced different forms of arms-related GBV are recognised, and we will continue to advocate for strong implementation of agreed commitments in 2020 and beyond. 

Read more from Reaching Critical Will on promoting feminist perspectives in disarmament

Advancing the nuclear ban

With Antigua and Barbuda’s most recent ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), we now have 34 ratifications of this groundbreaking Treaty. In 2019, there have been 15 new ratifying states and eleven new signatures. This means that just 16 more ratifications are needed for the Treaty’s entry into force! The overwhelming majority of UN member states continued to show their support to ban nuclear weapons at the UN General Assembly, with 123 states voting in favour of the resolution.

As part of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), WILPF has been supporting efforts to accelerate states’ accession to the Treaty. Prior to the start of this year’s Preparatory Committee of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in April, more than 100 ICAN activists, including the RCW team, met in New York and strategised together on the way forward to ensure that the TPNW enters into force as quickly as possible. Campaigners left the meeting energised and committed as ever to advance the nuclear ban, and we have since continued to mobilise the public nationally and locally.

As a result, with the ICAN Cities Appeal, more and more major cities have signed on this year to express their support for the Treaty, including, to name just a few: Anchorage, Alaska; Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, California; Washington, D.C; and Honolulu, Hawaii in the United States; Paris, Oslo, Berlin, and Geneva in Europe; as well as Victoria and Toronto in Canada and Melbourne and Sydney in Australia.
In June, heightened pressure for humanitarian nuclear disarmament came from International Queers Against Nukes (IQAN). In honour of Pride Month, our queer activists of ICAN were hitting the streets, including RCW’s Ray Acheson, protesting militarisation, corporatisation of Pride, and mobilising support for the nuclear ban treaty.

Over the course of this year, RCW has been actively promoting the Treaty locally, including at events with students and activists. In November, Brooklyn for Peace presented Ray with its PathMaker to Peace Award for her work on the TPNW. Earlier in September, Ray Acheson introduced the new documentary film “The Beginning of the End of Nuclear Weapons,” followed by its screening, in Brooklyn, NY. In the same month over 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. They worked with the mayor of Anchorage for the city to join the ICAN Cities Appeal.
(Photo credit: Ari Beser)

In August, Ray delivered the keynote speech at Hiroshima Day at the City Hall Peace Garden in Toronto, which was hosted by the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Day Coalition. Her remarks highlighted the connection between the bombings and the negative forces of patriarchy, white supremacy, and the ideology of power through violence. And in September, she spoke on the International Day of Peace in Montreal.

Thanks to ICAN’s global mobilising actions, we have come far this year. With just 16 more ratifications needed, and 80 signatory states, we are on the home stretch. As part of ICAN, RCW will work hard for the TPNW to enter into force in 2020!

Read more from Reaching Critical Will on advancing nuclear disarmament

Pushing for strong political action to stop the use of explosive weapons 

This year marked a turning point in the international community’s efforts to stop urban violence and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA).

After many years of advocacy from the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), of which WILPF is a steering group member, a process for the development of a political instrument to stop the bombings of towns and cities is finally underway. Along with other stakeholders such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UN Secretary-Generals, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), and governments, we have called for an instrument that would reinforce existing commitments under international humanitarian law (IHL).

Recent developments in 2019 have re-energised efforts to work towards a political declaration on EWIPA, including regional communiqués from Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, joint statements from 50 governments at the 2018 UN First Committee and from 72 governments at the 2019 session, and a joint appeal from the President of the ICRC and UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The latter expresses alarm “at the devastating humanitarian consequences of urban warfare” and notes, “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.”

As a result, from 1-2 October, Austria convened the Vienna Conference on the Protection of Civilians in Urban Warfare. One-hundred and thirty-three states, several international organisations, and dozens of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) participated, signaling the extent and breadth of global concern over the humanitarian impacts of urban warfare. Reaching Critical Will participated in and reported on the conference.

Following the Vienna conference, Ireland convened the first of a series of open consultations towards a political declaration on EWIPA on 18 November in Geneva. While a high rate of attendance and engagement at the consultation demonstrated states’ acknowledgement of the increased complexity of urban warfare and the devastating humanitarian impacts on civilians and civilian infrastructure, views differed on how to best address the issue, as outlined in our detailed summary report of the meeting.
(Photo credit: Permanent Mission of Ireland)

WILPF has been exposing the devastating impacts on human beings and the physical and social infrastructure of cities, towns, and communities, and we have consistently highlighted the gendered harms and other human rights violations that can be caused by the use of EWIPA, as well as connections between the use of EWIPA and the international arms trade. The urgency for action on this issue was yet again undeniable in a statement by WILPF to the Human Rights Council’s 41st session, which exposed the grave impacts of the use of EWIPA in the city of Idlib in Syria and also outlines the gendered implications of their use. 

Earlier this year, WILPF 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. 

It is expected that governments will adopt a political declaration in the first half of 2020. The RCW team will be reporting on the meetings, and will work to ensure the strongest possible outcome to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure from bombings and shelling of their homes.

 Read more from WILPF

Building an ever-growing movement to ban killer robots 

As in previous years, RCW participated in the 2019 UN meetings that seek to address the development of autonomous weapons. In two rounds of official meetings of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on autonomous weapons in March and August, and various informal meetings in Geneva, on which RCW reported in detail, states parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) have not made any progress to address the growing threat of the development and deployment of weapon systems with increasing autonomous functions. They merely agreed “to explore and agree on possible recommendations on options related to emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems.” To this end, it is to consider the guiding principles adopted this year, previous conclusions of the GGE, and further work on legal, technological, and military aspects of autonomous weapons, “and use them as a basis for its consensus recommendations on the clarification, consideration and development of aspects of the normative and operational framework on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems.” 

The CCW’s inaction on this topic poses a great risk to humanity, as technology is on its way of outpacing diplomatic efforts. 

Positively, the list of countries calling for a ban on killer robots grew to 30 in 2019. Throughout the year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated his disgust at “politically unacceptable and morally despicable” fully autonomous weapons and his strong desire for a new international ban treaty.

In stark contrast to the lack of progress in addressing the threat of killer robots within the CCW, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which WILPF is a steering committee member, continues to gain momentum in its determination to ban machines that would target and kill humans without any human control. This year, the campaign has doubled its membership to 139 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in 61 countries. The Campaign also doubled its efforts to reach out to a wide range of different stakeholders, including youth, tech workers, national politicians, or academics.

In March, the Campaign held its first global campaigners’ meeting in Berlin, where, amongst other speakers, Reaching Critical Will’s director Ray Acheson spoke about killer robots and feminism. Her presentation drew from the WILPF guide to killer robots published in 2019. The guide equips WILPF Sections and Groups with information about the issue; WILPF's approach; and the political process for a ban. 

WILPF sections in West Africa have been increasingly active in mobilising the public and their governments to create awareness in their countries and the region about the threat posed by killer robots. Activities included the direct outreach to government and political leaders, academia, local roboticists, AI experts, media, and civil society. For instance, WILPF Ghana urged its government to promulgate legislations to regulate the use of fully autonomous weapons and requested the government to put in place stringent measures to prevent killer robots from being smuggled into the country. WILPF Cameroon conducted outreach to regional organisations such as the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA). At the margins at the 32nd summit of the African Union in February, WILPF Cameroon also held a side event and lobbied diplomats to ensure that more states engage for the ban on killer robots. 

Against the backdrop of the rising demands of the public, and CCW’s inability to produce any credible outcome, we will work as part of the Campaign to pursue alternative pathways to avoid a future of autonomous warfare and violence in 2020 and beyond, so join us and stay tuned! (Photo credit: Campaign to Stop Killer Robots)

Read more from Reaching Critical Will

Promoting cyber peace

In December 2018, the General Assembly established two processes to discuss the issue of security in the information and communication (ICT)-environment during the period of 2019-2021: an Open-ended Working Group (OEWG), and a new Group of Governmental Experts (GGE). The two bodies replace earlier GGEs convened by the UN in this area since 2004 which were limited in number and closed to non-members. In some ways, the OEWG is meant to be a space for open and transparent discussion of these issue, but was created amid heavy politicisation at the 2018 First Committee.

The two processes got underway in 2019. The OEWG held a first substantive session in September and an informal multi-stakeholder intersessional meeting in early December, both which RCW reported on. The GGE held several regional consultations and an informal consultation with all UN member states ahead of starting its formal work in December.  

RCW opposes the militarisation and securitisation of cyber space. This year, RCW therefore published a new cyber peace and security fact sheet for more background information on these and other multilateral processes; issues of debate and concern; human rights considerations; feminist perspectives; and suggested reading and information sources. 

RCW, as the NGO contact point for the OEWG, also launched a new webpage to host documents and information related to these meetings, as well as more substantive content challenging the militarisation of cyber space and advocating for cyber peace. We further launched a new Cyber Peace & Security Monitor, providing coverage and analysis from the OEWG. 

The first substantive session of the OEWG took place in September. 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 delivered similar messages in remarks delivered at the informal inter-sessional meeting of the OEWG, convened in early December. The December meeting was significant for its wide inclusion of diverse civil society and was the only opportunity for non-governmental stakeholders to input to the process. Ultimately though, the meeting was informal in its status, and it’s not clear what civil society access to future OEWG formal sessions will be like. 

Positively, WILPF helped to organise and participated in a first-ever UN side event at international cyber security and gender during the December OEWG meeting. It explored how to apply what has been learned from advancing gender in disarmament, and in addressing online GBV, to the UN processes on international cybersecurity. 

Beyond the UN, RCW engaged in other related spaces this year. This includes a civil society consultation with members of the Organisation of American States (OAS), the annual Cyber Stability Conference organised by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), and the Canadian Cyber Dialogue. 

Looking ahead, RCW will continue to advocate for human-centric understandings of security to advance cyber peace and has been joining efforts with other like-minded civil society organisations in this regard RCW will take forward new research exploring the gendered impact of malicious cyber operations and gender diversity in the cyber security sector.

Read more from Reaching Critical Will


Banning nuclear weapons

Ending the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

Gender and disarmament

Challenging the arms trade

Preventing killer robots

Promoting cyber peace


Meetings of the Biological Weapons Convention

Open-ended working group (OEWG) on developments in the field of information and telecommunications

Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and all other Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)

Consultations for a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA)

Meeting of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) High Contracting Parties

UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security

Eleventh Conference on the Entry Into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

UN General Assembly General Debate

International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

Arms Trade Treaty Fifth Conference of States Parties (CSP5)

Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee

Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS)

CSP5 preparatory process


2 December 2019, Civil society statement to the Open-ended working group on ICTs

18 October 2019, Civil society statement on cyber and human security to the 2019 First Committee

18 October 2019, Civil society statement on gender to the 2019 First Committee

1 October 2019, WILPF statement for the Vienna Conference on Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare

10 September 2019, WILPF statement to the Open-ended working group on ICTs

28 August 2019, WILPF statement to the Fifth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty on treaty implementation

26 August 2019, WILPF statement to the Fifth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty on gender-based violence

1 May 2019, Civil society statement on gender to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Third Preparatory Committee

27 March 2019, WILPF statement to the CCW Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS)

1 February 2019, WILPF statement to the first informal preparatory committee for the Fifth Conference of States Parties (CSP5) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)