States expected to call for nuclear weapons ban at UN talks in Geneva

May 2, 2016

The United Nations General Assembly voted in December 2015 to establish a special working group with a mandate to develop “legal measures, legal provisions and norms” for achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world. The so-called Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) is intended to build on the findings and conclusions of the three “humanitarian impact” conferences in 2013 and 2014 as well as the historic “Humanitarian Pledge” which currently has the support of over 120 States. The first session of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) took place from 22 to 26 February. The upcoming May session will cover two weeks and is expected to go deeper into the elements and “legal measures” needed to achieve progress in nuclear disarmament. Many governments and civil society organisations expect that the OEWG discussions are setting the stage for negotiations on a new legally binding instrument which prohibits nuclear weapons.

The February OEWG session revealed that States are ready to address what kind of a legal instrument is needed to bring forward nuclear disarmament.
It is clear that the majority of States, especially the 120+ endorsers of the Humanitarian Pledge, acknowledge that a new legal instrument which prohibits nuclear weapons – their possession, use, stockpiling, transfer, etc. – is the most viable path forward.

Several delegations, including Brazil and Indonesia, have outlined clearly that they believe a ban treaty is the most logical next step since it can be negotiated now, even without the support of the nuclear weapon states, who have boycotted the OEWG thus far.

A few States, especially those who claim to rely on nuclear weapons for their security, have tried block the discussion about a ban treaty or steer matters into a different direction by claiming that a ban treaty wouldn’t have any effect without the nuclear weapon states or that it would “endanger international stability”. ICAN will strongly encourage supporters of the Humanitarian Initiative and a ban treaty should tackle these arguments head on and counter by asking what those States are doing to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their national security doctrines.

After the conclusion of the May session, the chair of the OEWG, Ambassador Thani Thonphakdi, will attempt to draft a report summarizing the views expressed and making recommendations which, after a final session in August, will be submitted to the UN General Assembly in the fall. ICAN expects the discussions in May to demonstrate clear support among the majority of States for a new legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons, or a “nuclear weapons ban treaty”, as the most promising and feasible next step towards the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons.



  • aiweiwei

    “Let’s act up! Ban nuclear weapons completely and unconditionally.”

    Ai Weiwei Artist and activist

  • 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 Former 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

    “I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons, and I support ICAN.”

    Dalai Lama Nobel laureate