ICAN statement at the OEWG

February 23, 2016

ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn delivered the following statement to the UN working group on nuclear disarmament in Geneva on 23 February. Other statements are available here, along with a report on Day 2 of the debate.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

I’m speaking on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a global campaign coalition representing more than 430 non-governmental organisations from almost 100 countries.

The panel on legal measures that we heard yesterday highlights that we are currently lacking an instrument that explicitly characterizes nuclear weapons as unacceptable under international law. And this open-ended working group is an appropriate place to start the practical work to address this legal gap.

Some states have said yesterday and today that there is no legal gap, that article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty contains all we need. But there are many activities that run counter to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons, activities that are still not clearly prohibited under international law.

For example, there are non-nuclear weapon states that are:

  • Hosting nuclear weapons on their territory;
  • Participating in nuclear war planning;
  • Training nationals to deliver nuclear weapons;
  • Facilitating intelligence gathering for nuclear targeting;
  • Claiming protection from an ally’s nuclear weapons;
  • Discouraging an ally from pursuing disarmament or reducing the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines;
  • Allowing nuclear-armed ships to enter their waters;
  • Allowing nuclear-armed aircraft into their airspace;
  • Allowing nuclear weapons to transit through their territory;
  • Contributing to nuclear weapon modernization programmes;
  • Financing nuclear-weapon-producing companies;
  • Supplying nuclear-capable delivery vehicles;
  • Supplying uranium without comprehensive safeguards;
  • Stockpiling weapon-grade fissile material.

These policies and practices demonstrate that there are indeed gaping holes in the current legal regime governing nuclear weapons. Filling these holes would contribute to the fulfilment of article VI obligations.

ICAN believes this gap should be addressed through a prohibition of the development, production, testing, transfer, acquisition, transit, stockpiling, deployment and use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance, financing, encouragement or inducement of these activities.

ICAN also believes that such an instrument should provide an obligation for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and a framework to achieve it. Such a new legally binding instrument would not need to establish specific provisions for elimination, but states parties to the treaty could agree to relevant measures and timelines as part of the implementation process, through protocols or other appropriate legal instruments.

In addition, ICAN strongly argues that such an instrument also should include positive obligations for states parties, such as ensuring the rights of victims and survivors of nuclear weapons, requiring actions to address damage to affected environments, and providing for international cooperation and assistance to meet the obligations of the instrument.

Such an instrument is urgently needed, because of the continued risks of a nuclear detonation and the unacceptable humanitarian consequences any use of nuclear weapons would cause. But we’d also like to remind all states about article VI of the NPT. All states – not just the five nuclear-weapon states – are legally required to pursue negotiations “in good faith” for nuclear disarmament.

Non-nuclear-weapon states are not merely encouraged to take positive steps towards nuclear disarmament; they are required to do so – regardless of the continued failure of nuclear-weapon states to act. This requirement also means that non-nuclear-weapon states should refrain from doing anything that would make nuclear disarmament less likely or impossible to achieve.

The Humanitarian Initiative has shown the important role that non-nuclear-weapon states can play in raising awareness about nuclear dangers and in building momentum for nuclear disarmament. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons looks forward to working with all states and international organizations on achieving a new legally binding instrument on prohibiting nuclear weapons.



  • sheen

    “If Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were alive today, they would be part of ICAN.”

    Martin Sheen Actor and activist

  • bankimoon

    “I salute ICAN for working with such commitment and creativity.”

    Ban Ki-moon UN chief

  • yokoono

    “We can do it together. With your help, our voice will be made still stronger. Imagine peace.”

    Yoko Ono Artist

  • jodywilliams

    “Governments say a nuclear weapons ban is unlikely. Don’t believe it. They said the same about a mine ban treaty.”

    Jody Williams Nobel laureate

  • desmondtutu

    “With your support, we can take ICAN its full distance – all the way to zero nuclear weapons.”

    Desmond Tutu Nobel laureate

  • herbiehancock

    “Because I cannot tolerate these appalling weapons, I whole-heartedly support ICAN.”

    Herbie Hancock Jazz musician

  • dalailama

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    Dalai Lama Nobel laureate