ICAN at the UNGA

November 7, 2016

On Thursday the 27th of October, United Nations adopted a landmark resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. The resolution is the culmination of the “Humanitarian Initiative” which has swept through the field nuclear disarmament in recent years, ushering in a new era based on humanitarian concerns and a broad participation of states and civil society.

At a meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters, 123 nations voted in favour of the resolution, with 38 against and 16 abstaining.

The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March next year, open to all member states, to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The negotiations will continue in June and July.

Despite arm-twisting by a number of nuclear-armed states, the resolution was adopted in a landslide. A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead in drafting the resolution. The nuclear-armed states remain fiercely opposed to a negotiation process which they cannot control or steer to preserve their own interests.

Working in partnership with key governments, ICAN mobilized its campaigners both on site at the United Nations in New York and in capitals throughout the world to build and consolidate support for the resolution, ensuring the successful outcome.

The resolution, known as L.41, acts upon the key recommendation of a UN working group on nuclear disarmament that met in Geneva this year to assess the merits of various proposals for achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Throughout this process, victims and survivors of nuclear weapon detonations, including nuclear testing, have contributed actively. Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing and an ICAN supporter, has been a leading proponent of a ban.

“This is a truly historic moment for the entire world,” she said following the vote. “For those of us who survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is a very joyous occasion. We have been waiting so long for this day to come.”

“Nuclear weapons are absolutely abhorrent. All nations should participate in the negotiations next year to outlaw them. I hope to be there myself to remind delegates of the unspeakable suffering that nuclear weapons cause. It is all of our responsibility to make sure that such suffering never happens again.”

Most of the nine nuclear-armed nations voted against the UN resolution. Many of their allies, including those in Europe that host nuclear weapons on their territory as part of a NATO arrangement, also failed to support the resolution.

But, in a side event co-sponsored by ICAN and the governments of Brazil and Guatemala, Australian Labour parliamentarian Lisa Singh spoke to the significance of ban treaty negotiations for opposition parliamentarians in nuclear alliance states like Australia: “[the Australian Labor Party] will do everything we can – from the opposition benches of parliament – to support this process as it moves forward,” she said. “I’m confident that a future Labor government in Australia would sign and ratify a treaty banning nuclear weapons, as per our national policy platform.”

Following lobby efforts by ICAN campaigners in Brussels, the European Parliament adopted its own resolution on this subject – 415 in favour and 124 against, with 74 abstentions – inviting European Union member states to “participate constructively” in next year’s negotiations.

The resolution has received widespread support from prominent supporters of humanitarian causes:

15 Nobel Peace Prize winners urged nations to support the negotiations and to bring them “to a timely and successful conclusion so that we can proceed rapidly toward the final elimination of this existential threat to humanity”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has appealed to governments to support this process, stating on 12 October that the international community has a “unique opportunity” to achieve a ban on the “most destructive weapon ever invented”.

Amnesty International: “This historic decision is a vote for common sense and humanity. It brings us a step closer to a world free from the horrors of nuclear weapons, the most destructive and indiscriminate weapons ever created.”

The resolution was also widely covered in the media, marking a break from past practice wherein only issues related to North Korea and the Iranian nuclear deal receive coverage. Major wire services including the Associated PressAgence France-PressBloombergEFE and DPA circulated pieces about the vote, and stories also appeared in the Guardian, the Independent, the Nation and Foreign Policy.

“This treaty won’t eliminate nuclear weapons overnight,” concluded Fihn. “But it will establish a powerful new international legal standard, stigmatizing nuclear weapons and compelling nations to take urgent action on disarmament.”

For more from ICAN on this historic resolution, check out the following links:

ICAN’s liveblog →

Resolution →

Photos →

Voting result →

+ ICAN’s flyers

The following flyers were circulated on social media and distributed to government delegations as they entered the conference hall in the week leading up to the vote.