Nuclear ban treaty reaches 50!

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has reached the 50 ratifications required for its entry into force!

Honduras deposited its instrument of ratification on 24 October, United Nations Day, which marks the 75th anniversary of the entry into force of the UN Charter in 1945. The governments of Jamaica and Nauru deposited their instruments of ratification on 23 October, the eve of this anniversary. Their collective efforts mean the TPNW has reached the requisite 50 ratifications to enter into force, which will happen in 90 days, on 22 January 2021.

This is truly a historic moment for nuclear abolition, achieved only by the relentless efforts of generations of activists and diplomats around the world. In January, nuclear weapons will be unlawful to possess, develop, deploy, test, use threaten to use, or assist in any way shape or form for their states parties. They will be on the same legal footing as biological and chemical weapons, as landmines and cluster bombs, as blinding laser weapons. Just as chemical weapon stockpiling and use is so rightly condemned, so too will the possession of nuclear weapons be stigmatised for all.

Speaking at the First Committee side event where Jamaica and Nauru announced their ratifications, Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow said that when she heard the news, she found herself communing with the spirits of hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

I was immediately in conversation with these beloved souls—my sister, my nephew Eiji, other dear family members, my classmates, all the children and innocent people who perished. I was reporting to the dead, sharing this good news first with them, because they paid the ultimate price with their precious lives. Like many survivors, I made a vow that their deaths would not be in vain and to warn the world about the danger of nuclear weapons, to make sure that no one else suffers as we have suffered.

Condemning the “barbaric behavior of nine nations who continue to develop more horrendous weapons, prepared to repeat nuclear massacres,” Thurlow rejoiced that so many activists and governments persisted in spite of being confronted by indifference and ignorance; in spite of being ridiculed by nuclear-armed and nuclear-dependent states. “Nuclear abolitionists everywhere can be incredibly encouraged and empowered by this new legal status. Now, with greater intensity and purpose, we will push forward.” While we have a long path to achieve the total elimination of nuclear weapons, she noted, “with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, we can be certain that that beautiful day will dawn.”

Adopted in 2017 by the UN General Assembly, the TPNW categorically outlaws nuclear weapon development, testing, possession, deployment, and use or threat of use. It is also the first feminist law on nuclear weapons, recognising the disproportionate impacts of nuclear weapons on women and girls and on Indigenous peoples, urging more equitable participation of women in disarmament, and mandating victim assistance and environmental remediation in relation to nuclear weapon use and testing.

Activists with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) worked with the governments of countries that have rejected nuclear weapons in order to achieve this Treaty. Its creation has been opposed from the start by the nuclear-armed states, which have tried to bully and ridicule other countries from supporting or joining it. The US government even recently demanded that countries that have already joined the Treaty withdraw their instruments of ratification or accession, in order to prevent its entry into force.

Thus, the achievement of 50 ratifications signals incredible courage from non-nuclear-armed states to stand up to so-called powerful states in order to solidify in international law the illegality and immorality of nuclear weapons. “As with all other social justice issues, laws will not fix everything straight away—and whatever gains are made are assaulted by pushback from those who fear loss of their privilege and power,” wrote RCW’s director Ray Acheson. “But things do change. The nuclear ban must be seen in this context: in the context of resistance to injustice, inequality, and oppression; and in the context of making meaningful change through acts of courage.”

For more information on the Treaty and on nuclear disarmament, see Reaching Critical Will’s nuclear abolition resource page.