April E-News

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, WILPF has mobilised its staff, members, and partners to develop a holistic analysis of the rapidly developing crisis. To this end, WILPF has launched a blog series that critically examines the underlying causes and consequences of the crisis, promoting feminist and antimilitarist perspectives. Amongst others, RCW’s Ray Acheson warns against the risks of relying on surveillance technologies in the pandemic; feminist academic Cynthia Enloe discusses the discourse of “waging war” against the virus; WILPF’s feminist political economy focal point Nela Porobić Isaković examines links between COVID-19 and neoliberalism; and Secretary-General Madeleine Rees shows how the virus has dramatically exposed the faults in our societal structures. Be sure to check in often, as we are publishing new pieces on a regular basis! In addition to our own analysis, WILPF has put together a collection of resources on a regularly-updated public bulletin board, including uplifting stories, analyses how we got here, and what our future could look like. (Picture credit: WILPF)

In this edition

UN Secretary-General calls for a global ceasefire

On Monday, 23 March, UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued an appeal urging a global ceasefire in the face of the “common enemy” of COVID-19. WILPF strongly welcomes this call. Ending armed conflict will allow humanitarian aid to reach vulnerable populations. It will also reduce the number of injuries requiring medical attention during a time when hospitals and medical facilities are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. A global ceasefire will also help prevent the further destruction of hospitals and other health services in many countries that have experienced bombing in populated areas in recent years. 

But, as we argued in a recent blog post, a ceasefire is not enough. The users of weapons are not the only ones responsible for the horrific levels of violence we see in armed conflict everyday around the world. The companies that make these weapons, the governments that approve sales and transfers, and the brokers that facilitate arms deals are also responsible. And while soldiers and militants must lay down their weapons, these others must also stop providing them. 

So many resources are wasted on weapons and war every year. The Global Campaign on Military Spending has made an excellent infographic highlighting the costs of militarism vs the costs of necessary healthcare equipment and services. Yet in many countries, arms controduction has been deemed an “essential service” that is carrying on despite the pandemic. These actions, and the “reassurance” from the US government that its trillion-dollar nuclear weapon modernisation programme is continuing unabated during this global pandemic, while most countries face shortfalls in essential medical equipment such as ventilators and masks, is more than heartless. It is criminal. 

With this in mind, WILPF has suggested several following actions in our blog, to end arms production, redirect financial and human resources, and demilitarise international relations and communities. (Picture credits: WILPF and Global Campaign on Military Spending)

NPT Review Conference is postponed but related activities continue

The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, originally scheduled for 27 April–22 May 2020, has been postponed to a date “as soon as the circumstances permit, but no later than April 2021” in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, many of us in the nuclear disarmament community want to make sure states implement their NPT obligations. It is with this in mind that we have moved some of the traditional morning government morning briefings, moderated by RCW, online! As usual, these briefings are for civil society only. If you want to join the discussions with governments, check out the calendar for an up-to-date schedule and registration details. 

Though all NPT side events have been cancelled, some NGOs have decided to hold online events instead. If you are planning such an event, RCW is happy to list it on our website. Please reach out to disarm[a]wilpf.org, and be sure to check the calendar to join some of the conversations! 

We hope that states also do their part to ensure the Treaty’s implementation, including by implementing Article VI that requires all nuclear-armed states parties to stop the nuclear arms race and get rid of their nuclear arsenals. Each year ahead of NPT meetings, RCW publishes a report on the status of nuclear weapon modernisation programmes. We will be putting out our 2020 edition next month, with updates from global experts and activists.

We are also continuing to promote the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as an important nuclear disarmament measure. At the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the NPT on 1 April, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) reminded in detail how both treaties interact and complement each other. 

Antinuclear activism surges amidst COVID-19 crisis

The current crisis gives us a glimpse of what would happen if a nuclear weapon was detonated anywhere in the world. The impacts would not be contained in the country where the explosion took place, and the repercussions would be even worse than what we’re seeing today. This is why nuclear activists are as busy as ever coming up with creative ideas, resources, and activities to raise awareness about the link between this crisis and the continued existence of nuclear weapons.

The obscene amounts of resources invested in nuclear weapon arsenals have severely depleted their possessors’ ability  to provide their citizens with direly needed health care services. ICAN broke down the vital resources that the billions of dollars spent on nuclear arsenals could pay for with examples from France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For example, the annual cost of $35.1 billion for the modernisation and maintenance of US nuclear weapons could pay for 300,000 hospital beds in intensive care; 35,000 ventilators; 150,000 nurses; and 75,000 doctors.

Doctors from around the world explained in an open letter why they work to rid the world of nuclear weapons in the midst of a global pandemic. ICAN partner organisations and activists in Germany continue to mobilise for the yearly days of action in Büchel from 3–7 July 2020, where the US deploys 10-20 non-strategic nuclear warheads. The Outrider Foundation developed an online learning tool on nuclear weapons in the form of a scavenger hunt for students and adults alike. ICAN just released a step-by-step guide for the ICAN Cities Appeal to help local activists mobilise support amongst politicians for the  TPNW. It also published a new briefing paper about divestment and nuclear weapons, shedding light on the huge role of the financial sector in the production of nuclear weapons.

We are currently only 14 ratifications away from the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’s entry into force! On 20 March, Namibia became the 36th country to ratify the Treaty. The usual in-person deposit of ratification ceremony was replaced with a small ceremony via Zoom. This shows that it’s also possible to accomplish ratifications in the age of the coronavirus and we’ll work to get many more in the upcoming months. (Picture credits: ICAN)

Urgency of dealing with autonomous weapons is highlighted in Germany’s online forum

On 1–2 April, the government of Germany hosted an online forum in support of the 2020 Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on lethal autonomous weapon systems, or killer robots. 450 people participated from 63 countries, various institutions, and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, including RCW. The forum follows a symposium organised by Brazil in February. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is unknown how the schedule of the GGE will be affected this year. In the meantime, this forum was intended to bring governments and civil society together to continue discussions around the guiding principles developed by previous GGEs and to consider the development of an operational and normative framework mandated by the last meeting of high contracting parties of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Germany announced that it intends to hold a follow-up conference on 6 November 2020, one week before the CCW's annual meeting of high contracting parties, which is scheduled to take place in Geneva 11-13 November.

For more information about the topics discussed in the two-day meeting, check out RCW’s detailed summary report, the Campaign’s news article, and the German Foreign Ministry’s report of the meeting. 

Process for a political declaration to stop the bombings of towns and cities continues

Despite the postponement of the third in-person consultation for a political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA), the process continues online. Ireland has extended the deadline for inputs on the draft of the political declaration to 1 May to allow the greatest number of inputs from states and civil society. Ireland announced that based on the written inputs, it will circulate a second draft of the political declaration later in the year. 

WILPF has just published our response to the draft text. In it, RCW urges that the declaration commit states to ending the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), of which WILPF is a steering group member, also published its response to the draft text.

We continue to be hopeful that the final declaration can make a difference to the millions of people around the world suffering from the unconscionable levels of death and destruction currently caused by the bombing of towns, cities, and villages. (Picture credit: INEW)

WILPF highlights the importance of gender perspectives and cyber peace

In April, WILPF submitted a response to the pre-draft report of the UN’s open-ended working group (OEWG) on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security. The response covered six priority areas that WILPF has highlighted consistently in its contributions to the OEWG process such as the importance of a gender perspective within international cyber security; the necessity of promoting cyber peace and challenging militarism in cyberspace; multi-stakeholder approaches to the OEWG and other processes; and the role of norms, laws, and accountability mechanisms.  

A third and final substantive session of the OEWG is scheduled for 6–10 July 2020 in New York but in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, may either be postponed or convened virtually. Both scenarios could impact access and meaningful participation, as well as the potential for the adoption of substantive outcomes from what has been a largely constructive process to date.

WILPF also welcomes UN Under-Secretary-General Hochschild’s call for a "digital ceasefire," in which he notes in particular the increase of cyber operation targeting medical facilities and the World Health Organisation.

WILPF submits two reports on the gendered impacts of arms companies and arms transfers to UN human rights mechanisms

WILPF made two submissions to different human rights mechanisms that highlight our concerns over the devastating impacts of arms transfers on human rights.

The first submission was made to the Working Group on Business and Human Rights for its project aimed at clarifying the practical steps that states and business enterprises should take to implement the Guiding Principles on business and human rights in conflict and post-conflict contexts. Our submission highlights the importance of addressing the arms industry and calls for companies to exercise gender and conflict-sensitive human rights due diligence, and challenges neoliberal assumptions on what makes sustainable peace.

The second submission was made to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for a report that is to be submitted to the 44th session of the Human Rights Council. It focuses on the impact of the diversion of arms and unregulated and illicit transfers on the human rights of women and girls. WILPF illustrates how both illicit and regulated arms transfers have devastating impacts on women and girls, and stresses that it’s essential to also look at the gendered impacts of weapons, including analyses of men and boys, and persons of diverse and marginalised sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics.  

A tribute to the Geneva Disarmament Platform

Many of us have learned the sad news by now. The Geneva Disarmament Platform (GDP) is closing down on 30 April 2020. Since its launch in October 2016, the GDP has developed and managed an online resource centre compiling information on all disarmament-related events; organised events to enhance expertise and dialogue among actors within and outside the sector; and designed specific activities to raise awareness among a younger audience of disarmament processes and their relevance in addressing global issues.

We at RCW are grateful for the always friendly, inspiring, and supportive collaboration with GDP’s small and dedicated team, and wish both Richard and Marion all the best in their new adventures.  

Upcoming events

COVID, sanctions, and North Korea
20 April, online

Gun violence in Mexico and Central America: facing the challenges and the path to solutions
21 April, online

World conference: abolish nuclear weapons, resist & reverse climate change, for economic & social justice
25 April, online

Trends in global arms transfers and military spending
28 April, online

Featured news

UN Secretary-General calls for global ceasefire

In an international appeal issued on Monday, 23 March, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged warring parties across the world to observe a ceasefire to assist the battle against COVID-19, which he called “the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind.” Guterres asked UN special envoys in conflict zones to follow up on this appeal. As of 3 April, 70 member states endorsed his appeal, as well as warring parties engaged in conflict in eleven countries. 

Weapons production continues amidst pandemic 

Civil society organisations call for the end of weapons production and arms transfers in light of the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. However, weapons production continues unabated in countries such as the United States, Italy, and Canada, with arms companies arguing that the defence industry be included as “essential services”.  

UK nuclear weapons contractor to make 10,000 ventilators

The defence company Babock, based in the United Kingdom (UK), will begin manufacturing 10,000 Zephyr Plus ventilators in response to the UK’s Prime Minister’s launched “ventilator challenge”. It is expected that staff who routinely work on defence contracts have been redeployed to work on the ventilator project. A new resource page by the Forum on the Arms Trade tracks governments’ request from across the globe  to repurpose the defense industry.

Canada to resume approving military goods exports to Saudi Arabia

The Canadian government announced it would begin reviewing export permit applications for Saudi Arabia on a case-by-case basis. It is thereby lifting a moratorium on new permits for shipments of controlled goods imposed in the fall of 2018. Government officials cited a government review that found “no credible evidence” linking Canadian exports of military equipment or other controlled goods to Saudi-Arabian human rights violations. Canada renegotiated a controversial multibillion-dollar contract that will see an Ontario-based company sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Activists have criticised the decision heavily, highlighting the grave humanitarian costs of continued arms transfers to the country.    

First European film festival ever on the international arms trade concluded in Italy

For the first time in Europe, the civil society network Global Net-Stop the Arms Trade (GN-STAT), together with the Municipality and Academy of Merano, the University Platform for Human Dignity and Human Rights (EUPHUR), and other partners organised a film festival on the international arms trade entitled “Mercato di Morte–Deadly Trade”. The festival took place in February 2020 in Merano, Italy. 

UN Secretary-General calls on governments to put women’s safety first amidst COVID-19 pandemic

UN Secretary-General Guterres pointed out in a statement on 5 April that violence is not confined to the battlefield. "For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes,” he said, in response to a global surge in domestic violence cases. Guterres urges governments to make prevention and response to gender-based violence part of national COVID-19 response plans, among other measures that are set out in the UN domestic violence reduction recommendations.

US city of Baltimore approves surveillance planes amid opposition

Baltimore officials have approved an “eyes-in-the-skye” programme that uses surveillance planes to create a visual record of everything that can be seen in the streets below. The six-month pilot programme will collect images of the city to investigate murders, nonfatal shootings, armed robberies, and carjacking. Despite concerns that such pervasive monitoring could violate people’s rights, the city’s Board of Estimates voted in favour to approve the privately funded contract. The American Civil Liberties Union has launched a lawsuit to stop the programme going forward.

Catalogue of civil society assistance to states parties of the Biological Weapons Convention now available

In partnership with Georgetown University Center for Global Health, Science and Security, the Stimson Center has compiled a catalogue of civil society actors providing information for states parties to the Biological Weapons Convention about civil society assistance programs and how states can connect to these directly.

Recommended reading

Various authors, WILPF blog series on COVID-19, March and April 2020

Documentary: “The nuns, the priests, and the bombs.”

Video: “Feminist Alternatives: Challenge Militarism to Save Our Planet,” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 9 April 2020 

Video: “Gender, power, and arms: International armament, masculinities, and discrimination,” Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, 25 February 2020

Torbjørn Graff Hugo and Kjølv Egeland, “Patterns of participation in multilateral disarmament forums,” Norwegian People’s Aid, February 2020

Alice Slater, “The virus of nuclear proliferation,” IDN-InDepthNews, 8 March 2020

Motoko Rich, “The man who won’t let the world forget the firebombing of Tokyo,” The New York Times Magazine, 9 March 2020

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini MBE, “Women peace and security in the time of corona,” London School of Economics, 25 March 2020

Matthew Impelli, “One year of US nuclear weapons spending would provide 300,000 ICU beds, 35,000 ventilators and salaries of 75,000 doctors,” Newsweek, 26 March 2020

Vicki Elson and Timmon Wallis, “In a pandemic, the bomb looks different,” NuclearBan.US, 29 March 2020

Anna Alvazzi del Frate, Gergely Hideg, Emile LeBrun, “Gender counts: assessing global armed violence datasets for gender relevance,” Small Arms Survey, March 2020 

“Digital surveillance to fight COVID-19 can only be justified if it respects human rights,” Amnesty International, 2 April 2020

George Monbiot, “What does ‘national defence’ mean in a pandemic? It’s no time to buy fighter jets,” The Guardian, 8 April 2020

Call to Action: Now and the Future, COVID-19 and Gender Equality, Global Peace and Security,” Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS), 9 April 2020

Cesar Jaramillo, “In the midst of our COVID-19 crisis, Canada lifted its moratorium on arms exports to Saudi Arabia,” The Globe and Mail, 15 April 2020

“Warring parties continue to undermine Yemeni lives: the fifth anniversary of the Saudi/UAE-led military campaign in Yemen,” Mwatana for Human Rights, 26 March 2020