French-speaking African states build momentum towards Vienna
November 14, 2014
More than 30 diplomats representing 21 African countries participated in a francophone roundtable on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, hosted by Togo and ICAN at the UN in Geneva on November 12th.
HE Ms. Napka Polo, Ambassador from Togo, opened the proceedings by recalling the outcomes of the two Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, and reiterated the importance of a strong participation to the 3rd Conference, in Vienna on December 8 and 9, 2014. She stated, “Africa has no direct economic or political interest in the preservation of these weapons and, being the most vulnerable continent, needs to mobilise to achieve nuclear disarmament.” She challenged French-speaking African states to be “more active than the English-speaking African states” to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.
Ms. Woergoetter, representing the Austrian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, announced that 87 countries have so far registered to the Vienna Conference. Woergoetter also presented the final program, highlighting the new topics which will be discussed.
Ms. Aebersold from the UNDP office in Geneva explained the lessons learned when studying the impact of nuclear explosions on health, economy, environment and development on tests sites and Chernobyl. She stated the vital need to prevent a detonation from ever happening again through the elimination of these weapons.
Mr. Nash from Article 36 and ICAN demonstrated the value of starting negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons even if nuclear weapon states do not participate, as “such a treaty would positively impact the move toward their elimination.” He argued that such a treaty would change the game on several levels in that “the legal clarity of a ban would increase the political pressure toward their elimination, and nuclear weapons will become more problematic in the military cooperation between states. The process of negotiation will also establish a stronger community for disposal.”
The debate between participants focused primarily on the options to free the world from nuclear weapons and how to get there. Diplomats expressed the importance of the Vienna conference and the need to get out of the deadlock of current nuclear disarmament talks, even if some were skeptical that a ban treaty could ever be achieved. SE Ms. Polo stated the will of Togo to be involved in further discussions and to inspire the region, “as Africa can and must play a leading role, with the experience gained from the Ottawa and Oslo process for landmines and cluster munitions.”
“Such a discussion in French is the first one happening at this level,” said Arielle Denis, ICAN director for Europe and Africa, “ Many participants expressed their interest to keep the discussion going and I am confident that French speaking African countries will build on their experience to become leading actors toward the prohibition of nuclear weapons.”