May E-News

The world feels heavy right now. The last weeks have seen a devastating wave of militarist violence across the globe. From Colombia’s ongoing brutal response to protests, to the devastating terrorist attack on a girls’ school in Afghanistan, to the escalating violence and militarised repression against Palestinians, and continued police and gun violence in the United States.

This is where many decades of militarism, capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy have taken us. The belief that weapons can bring security, and that violence and domination pave the way for peace, is deeply flawed. 

Since its founding, WILPF has worked for a world without weapons. We believe that a just, fair, and liveable future will not be possible without a radical transformation of society, and the centering of feminist values and feminist peacean understanding that sees security not as predicated on patriarchal norms of weapons and militarism, but on societal well-being and care. This is why we will continue to work for and promote the right of all people to live life free from violence, persecution, environmental degradation, and economic exploitation.

In this edition

Civil society groups call for end to arms transfers and military “aid” amidst new wave of militarised violence across the globe

As we witness horrific violence across the world, organisers are calling for an end to arms transfers and military “aid”.

Limpal (WILPF Colombia) is working hard to raise awareness and address the brutal militarised response by state security forces to protests. WILPF International, as well as other WILPF Sections, also expressed strong opposition to the repressive and violent actions by security forces, including use of live ammunition, military-grade weapons, and other means of lethal and violent force. To discuss and contextualise what’s going on in Colombia, WILPF hosted an exchange about feminist organising in Latin America, with colleagues from WILPF Colombia and WILPF Argentina.

As violence by state security forces continues, human rights and disarmament groups are shining a light on the origins of weapons and equipment used by state security forces. The Colombian human rights organisation CREDHOS (the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights) has called on Canada and other countries to stop any technical assistance, aid, logistical or financial support to the Colombian army and police. Peace Brigades International Canada recalled concerns expressed previously by Amnesty International Canada, about Canada’s selling of light armoured vehicles to Colombia in 2014, raising concerns if these have been used during protests in recent days. Many other organisations, including Amnesty International, the OMCT, and the United Nations, have denounced the government’s militarised response and repression of demonstrations. These are just a few examples of the outpouring of condemnation of police and support for the protesters.

Meanwhile, in a statement on Palestine, WILPF International notes that “We are witnessing horrific scenes of relentless shelling by Israel of civilian buildings and neighbourhoods in Gaza, the rise of settler violence terrorising unarmed peaceful Palestinians in Occupied Jerusalem, and the targeting of Palestinians in Lod, Haifa, and elsewhere by mobs.” Israel’s actions are possible because of the complicity of governments and corporations around the world, and many disarmament groups have therefore reiterated calls for governments to stop the export of all arms and related materials to Israel. For example, Labour Against the Arms Trade called on Canada to suspend all sales to Israel until it complies with international law and upholds the rights of Palestinians, and Project Ploughshares urged Canada to “reassess all … Israel-bound arms exports, especially those used in airstrikes,” noting that since 2015, Canada has exported $57M worth of weapons to Israel. 

Similarly, the Campaign against the Arms Trade (CAAT) urged the United Kingdom (UK) to stop arming Israel, and War on Want has launched a petition to demand a UK arms embargo to Israel. In the United States, CODEPINK  highlighted the US government’s complicity in Israel’s war crimes, sending $3.8 billion dollars annually in military “aid”. It has launched a petition to end all military “aid” to Israel.

The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) has issued a statement condemning the use of explosive weapons in the Gaza strip and Israel, and called all parties to stop the use of heavy explosive weapons in towns, cities and other populated areas due to the high risk of harm to civilians. Similarly, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has issued an urgent call for restraint and de-escalation, noting,“Every minute that this cycle of violence continues is a danger to people’s lives, their homes and the services and infrastructure they rely on like hospitals and schools.” There are many more statements, demonstrations, and actions across the globe in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and we encourage you to join and support them.

First Arms Trade Treaty meetings in 2021 concluded

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) community met virtually for the first time in 2021, from 26–30 April. This included meetings of the ATT working groups, as well as a preparatory session for  the upcoming Seventh Conference of States Parties (CSP7) and discussion of CSP7’s thematic focus on effective stockpile management. The RCW team participated actively, and delivered comprehensive statements in three different sessions (see here, here, and here).

As we noted in an edition of the ATT Monitor, in his role as CSP7 president, Ambassador Gberie of Sierra Leone has done well in taking a consultative approach to planning this meeting cycle by outlining the options for meeting modalities and formats and asking states and civil society to offer input along the way. However, despite there being around 200 or more people logged in each day, verbal participation in meetings was noticeably low.

Lower than usual participation gave credence to points that WILPF and others have made about this being an opportune moment in time to evaluate the existing and proposed meeting modalities, work plans, discussions, and related resource allocations, and to question the “business as usual” approach. Similarly, WILPF and others called for the need for a reality-based conversation about assessing the Treaty’s impact, which has not managed to prevent states parties’ arms sales to countries engulfed in conflict and with poor human rights records. 

Instead of a second round of preparatory meetings, there will be a remote consultation period from May-June to finalise documentation arising from the preparatory meetings.Based on this meeting and written consultations, documents will be submitted for consideration and adoption at CSP7, to take place from 30 August–3 September 2021. The deadline for  states parties to submit their annual reports on their arms exports in 2020 is 31 May 2021. 

Next steps in UN cyber processes

The various United Nations processes on international cyber peace and security are moving forward. The sixth Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Advancing responsible State behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security will have its final substantive session during the week of 24 May. The sixth GGE has been meeting since December 2019, but because the Group’s deliberations are closed and limited in number, it’s difficult to know what the outcomes of its work will be or if it will align with outcomes from the recently concluded first Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security.

A second OEWG will commence work later in 2021, following an organisational session scheduled for 12 June 2021. At present, it’s not known who will chair the new OEWG, how it will organise work over the five years of its mandate, and if civil society will have improved access to its formal meetings than was the case with the first OEWG. This subject will be explored further during an online event organised by Global Partners Digital and Chatham House on 24 May. On 11 May, RCW’s programme manager spoke during an event at the Stockholm Internet Forum about civil society participation and access to UN cyber processes, including a potential new process to establish a cyber programme of action (PoA). More than 50 states support the development of a cyber PoA.

The organising meeting for the Russian-led initiative for an international cyber crime treaty was recently held on 1112 May. While this process has been advanced through the UN General Assembly Third Committee on human rights, some of its dynamics are hard to separate from those of the GGEs and OEWGs, which are First Committee-established processes. Human rights groups have warned this treaty process could legitimise abusive practices by criminalising the work of journalists, human rights defenders, technologists, and others.

Update on meeting modalities

While COVID-19 still engulfs the globe, the UN seems to be cautiously optimistic about convening in-person or hybrid meetings again later in the year. We therefore wanted to share some updates about upcoming disarmament and arms control meetings, noting that these are all still subject to COVID-19 developments, as well as other political and logistical considerations.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon)

Due to public health concerns related to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 NPT RevCon was rescheduled from its original dates 27 April–22 May 2020 and is tentatively scheduled now for 2–27 August 2021 in New York. However, the RevCon won’t be able to convene in its usual format and scope due to continued health concerns and social distance requirements. For this reason, consultations are currently underway to explore either a hybrid and scaled down NPT RevCon or to postpone the Conference to a later date. Reaching Critical Will will communicate decisions and information to civil society as soon as these details are available, through our next E-News (make sure you’ve subscribed), and on our website.

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)

The UN Secretary-General has circulated a note verbale informing that the first Meeting of States Parties (MSP) to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will take place in Vienna from 12 to 14 January 2022. However, these dates are tentative, based on COVID-19 restrictions and the timing of other conferences. Any state that deposits its instrument of ratification or accession on or before 14 October 2021 will formally be a state party by 12 January 2022 and therefore able to participate fully in the MSP. Other states will be able to observe the meeting but not have the same decision-making rights. Signatories are encouraged to complete their ratification procedures as soon as possible, and other states to accede.

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

After only one meeting of the GGE on LAWS took place in 2020, the GGE on LAWS is scheduled to meet for 20 days in 2021. The agreed dates are: 28 June– 5 July, 3–13 August, and 27 September–1 October. All meetings are scheduled to take place in the standard in-person format. In the event that such meetings become impossible due to COVID-19 restrictions, a further decision will be required on a consensus basis. Reaching Critical Will will communicate any potential updates on meeting modalities. For the first meeting starting 28 June, delegations are invited to submit written contributions on possible consensus recommendations on aspects of a normative and operational framework by 11 June 2021. Further guidance for submissions can be found in the Chair’s note verbaleFor updated information on meeting modalities and next steps, be sure to check back on our website, and subscribe to our newsletter. 

WILPF US publishes new resources guides for taking action on reducing US military budget

WILPF US continues its Call for Peace Campaign, publishing resource guides on why the United States’ bloated military budget must be reduced, and where that saved money could be used to benefit human need. The guides provide activists with data about the US military budget and alternatives. They also include information on US military expenditure in the Middle East, on what proportion of taxpayers’ money is being used for the US military, how else that might benefit towns, and more. 

African Sections are mobilising for a continent without small arms  

Seventeen African WILPF Sections are currently working to raise awareness about the devastating gendered impacts of small arms and light weapons (SALW). They are collaborating with other organisers in their communities to spotlight the issue and call for increased women’s participation in SALW control amongst local and national authorities. There are too many activities to mention but a few of the results include: 

  • WILPF Zimbabwe managed to build national momentum around women’s leadership and representation in small arms control through localised activities;
  • WILPF Niger increased awareness about the links between gender and SALW amongst government authorities and the wider public, including through media outreach; while
  • WILPF Burkina Faso held education activities for young people in the country’s border regions with Mali and Niger, where there is vast proliferation of small arms.

Sections received funding from the Gender Equality Network For Small Arms Control (GENSAC), a network that aims to make SALW control more gender responsive and amplify international, regional, national and local best practices. GENSAC just launched its new website, which seeks to act as a platform for promoting effective participation of women on all policy- and decision-making levels, strengthening operational support for more gender-sensitive design and implementation, and building an evidence base for gender-responsive SALW control. (Picture credit: WILPF Zimbabwe)

Gender and Disarmament Database: Recommendation of the Month

This month, we’re recommending a webinar book launch, hosted by CODEPINK, of Ray Acheson’s forthcoming book Banning the Bomb, Smashing the Patriarchy. The event is one of many online book launches, past and upcoming, which offer unique insights into the antinuclear movement and its recent successful campaign to ban the bomb. The book describes the journey from “scrappy organising” to winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 and achieving a landmark UN treaty banning nuclear weapons. The book will launch 6 June, and you can pre-order it here, and get 30 per cent off with the discount code RLFANDF30. WILPF will also host its own launch event in early June, and Canadian peace groups are hosting one on 27 May, so watch out for those!

Upcoming events

Conferences and international days and campaigns

UN Security Council open debate on the protection of civilians
25 May, online

International Day on Women and Disarmament
24 May 2021, global

IANSA Global Week of Action against Gun Violence
31 May-4 June 2021, global


AEPF13: Global Days of Action on Military Spending
17 May 2021, online

Recent trends in global arms transfers and military spending
17 May, online

DMZ Forum
21-22 May 2021, online

Feminist critiques of militarisation
26 May 2021, online

Banning the Bomb, Smashing the Patriarchy book launch event
27 May 2021, online

Explosive weapons and human health - how to better protect civilians
27 May 2021, online

Featured news

New SIPRI report: world military expenditure in 2020 at the highest level since 1988

World military expenditure in 2020 is estimated to have been US $1981 billion, the highest level since 1988, which is the earliest year for which the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has a consistent estimate for total global military spending. World military expenditure in 2020 was 2.6 per cent higher in real terms than in 2019 and 9.3 per cent higher than in 2011. Close to 150 civil society organisations are calling on governments to drastically reduce military expenditures, and to reallocate freed-up resources to human and environmental needs. 

Escalation in Israel-Palestine conflict has killed close to 200 civilians, including children

An escalation in the Israel-Palestine conflict has seen the biggest flare-up since the seven-week Israeli war on Gaza in 2014. Violence sharply escalated after Israeli forces attempted to quell protestors in East Jerusalem after planned forced expulsions of people from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, and raids on the Al-Aqsa compound and mosque. Rockets were fired into populated areas in Israel in retaliation by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups. This was followed by Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza strip, exacting a heavy toll on the civilian population. At the time of publishing, nearly 200 Palestinians, including 58 children, and at least nine Israelis, including two children, and one Indian national have been killed since hostilities started 10 May. Hundreds of Palestinian families have been rendered homeless, and have taken shelter in United Nations-run schools in northern Gaza to escape Israeli artillery fire. The attacks have prompted international concern. The United Nations has called for an immediate cease-fire, warning about escalation to an all-out war. 

ICRC calls for new legal rules to address autonomy in weapons systems

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) president shared the ICRC’s conclusion that new international law is needed to tackle the ethical, humanitarian, and legal challenges posed by autonomy in weapons systems. The ICRC has been raising concerns regarding the moral and legal implications of autonomy in weapons systems for many years, but their recent conclusion that new legal rules are needed in order to respond to those concerns is a very significant step. 

Germany’s second largest bank to exclude funding for the development of autonomous weapons

In its 2020 sustainability report, the second largest German bank (DZ bank) has included new regulations on its investment policy, stating that it will not invest in the development autonomous weapons, as it will not fund controversial weapons, including weapons that have indiscriminate effects, cause excessive suffering, have devastating effects on civilians, or are internationally outlawed. It is the third bank in Germany to exclude autonomous weapons from its investment policy.

Cyber operation shuts down major US energy pipeline  

The US Colonial Pipeline was hit by a ransomware cyber . The pipeline carries 2.5 million barrels a day—45 per cent of the US east coast's supply of diesel, petrol, and jet fuel. The operator took itself offline after the operation, and work to restore service is continuing. The attack comes after news of the Biden administration’s 100-day plan to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure against cybersecurity threats. A cybercrime DarkSide, which is based in Russia, has acknowledged responsibility for the incident in a public statement. It is one of the largest criminal, ransomware incidents targeting critical infrastructure to date, and impacted gas prices. 

US military to destroy last batch of missiles carrying deadly VX nerve agent

The US military has revealed that its last batch of stockpiled missiles armed with highly lethal VX nerve agent outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) has been delivered for destruction. In early May 2021, Blue Grass Chemical Activity crews moved the last of the nearly 13,000 projectiles filled with the VX nerve agent and stored at Blue Grass Army Depot to the Blue Grass Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant, which has already destroyed 133.2 tons of chemical agent since 2019. The Blue GrassArmy Depot in Kentucky is one of only two remaining chemical weapons stockpile locations in the US. 

New survey finds: European public are sceptical towards four top-selling EU nations’ arms exports

Greenpeace Germany and Greenpeace Italy published a new survey, undertaken by the institute YouGov, on people’s attitude on exporting weapons in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. The survey found that at least 53 per cent (Germany 60 per cent, France 53 per cent, Italy 65 per cent, Spain 61 per cent) judged the arms export policy of their respective government as not morally and ethically sufficient. At least 59 per cent (Germany 73 per cent, France 59 per cent, Italy 76 per cent, Spain 69 per cent) are against common European arms projects like the Future Combat Air Systems, if the precondition of the project is the possibility of exporting the weapon systems to countries ruled by dictators, with human rights violations, or are involved in a war.   

Civil society’s legal challenge over the supply of UK weapons for the war in Yemen will proceed to High Court

The UK-based Campaign against the Arms Trade (CAAT) has been granted permission by the UK courts to seek judicial review over the government's decision to renew arms export licences to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, specifically over their conclusions that Saudi coalition violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) were "isolated incidents" that do not lead to a clear risk of further violations. The case will likely be heard later this year.

US expected to approve some arms sales to UAE and Saudi Arabia

The Biden administration plans to suspend the sale of many offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia that were approved under the Trump administration, but it looks as though it will allow the sale of other matériel that can be construed to have a defensive purpose. This includes F-35 fighter jets and armed Reaper drones to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and weapons used by helicopters, ground-to-ground munitions, small arms, and electronics equipment, including jamming technology to Saudi Arabia. The plan is part of an administration review of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that the White House announced soon after President Biden’s inauguration.

NATO countries: Support for nuclear ban treaty keeps rising 

Support from both the public and an increasing number of major political parties keep rising in member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). In Germany, both the Green Party (the strongest party according to recent polls for general elections in September) and the Social Democratic Party have expressed their support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in their election manifesto. In Canada, a recent poll found that 74 per cent of the public expressed support for Canada adhering to the Treaty. 

Open call for young artists to submit artwork for the nuclear ban treaty

To celebrate the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), Pax Christi International is seeking digital artists to help encourage countries that haven’t yet joined the Treaty to do so join it. Winning artworks will be awarded with a monetary reward, and the top 20 selected works will be screened during an online event in August 2021. 

UNODA and ROK open call for applications to Youth Forum on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

The United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea are looking for motivated and energetic youth aged 18-29 from diverse backgrounds to share their perspectives and visions in the promotion of the UN disarmament and non-proliferation agenda. Interested candidates should send a curriculum vitae (maximum of two pages) along with a short motivation letter (1-2 paragraph, maximum of one page) to [email protected] by 21 May in order to apply to the Forum.

Recommended reading

Jillian Rafferty, Elizabeth Kirkham, and Roy Isbister, “Arms exports, terror and crime: Reducing risk under the Arms Trade Treaty,” Saferworld, April 2021

Assessing the UK government action on Women, Peace and Security in 2020,” Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS), April 2021

Defence industry influence in Italy: Analysing defence industry influence in the Italian policy agenda,” Transparency International, 28 April 2021

Joe Cirincione, “How a hearing on nuclear weapons shows all that’s wrong with US foreign policy making,Responsible Statecraft, 5 May 2021

Michael Marchant et al., “Profiting from misery: South Africa’s complicity in war crimes in Yemen,” Open Secrets, March 2021

Kerrie Blaise and M.V. Ramana, “Plan to import nuclear waste raises larger questions about plans to deal with domestic nuclear waste,The Hill Times, 6 May 2021

Kjølv Egeland, “Nuclear weapons and adversarial politics: bursting the abolitionist ‘consensus,’Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, 6 May 2021

Linsey Cottrell and Kendra Dupuy, “We must not ignore explosive weapons’ environmental impact,” Conflict and Environment Observatory, 12 May 2021