Humanitarian initiative takes centre stage at United Nations General Assembly

October 26, 2014

It took a full 5 minutes for New Zealand’s Ambassador for Disarmament, Dell Higgie, to read out the list of the 155 co-sponsors of the Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. The overwhelming support for the statement demonstrates concretely the momentum that in the period since the second International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons hosted by Mexico in Nayarit, there has been no waning of support for the humanitarian initiative. Indeed, non-nuclear weapon states are starting to speak openly and with confidence about the next steps.

The New Zealand Joint Statement is the latest and strongest in a series of statements delivered at NPT meetings and in the UN General Assembly and two multilateral conferences, in Norway and Mexico, aimed at highlighting the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. The New Zealand Joint Statement follows up on the one that was delivered at last year’s First Committee which garnered the support of 125 states. Crucially, the 30 additions demonstrated the consolidation of support in Latin America and the Caribbean, with 100% support there, as well as 53 of 54 African states. Of the notable new supporters from Europe is Sweden, which looks poised to reassume a role as a champion in this field, having delivered a particularly strong statement during the general debate last week.

Collectively these statements, the conferences in Norway and Mexico and the general reframing of the discourse have become known as the Humanitarian Initiative. With the third conference in the series, to be hosted by Austria in Vienna on 8-9 December 2014, the question many people are asking now is where this might lead. Is this the beginning of a process which will lead to negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons? One thing can be said definitively, the Humanitarian Initiative and the idea of a ban on nuclear weapons have become part of the multilateral discourse on nuclear weapons, and disarmament is seen as an issue that all states have a stake in and a responsibility for shaping and developing.  An oft-heard refrain is that humanitarian initiative is “the most exciting initiative in nuclear disarmament for years”.

No longer is the only sense of frustration expressed in forums about the lack of progress expressed as simply criticism from the sidelines aimed at nuclear-armed states. Non-nuclear weapon states are taking back the initiative and driving a new narrative. The flailing of the so-called “nuclear umbrella states” and the increasingly defensive tones from nuclear armed states only serve to show the potency of the arguments about where the humanitarian initiative could lead. Those states and civil society organisations who are serious about nuclear disarmament and see a legal prohibition as having real potential in bringing us closer to our shared goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons, should be further heartened by the words of Ambassador Anthony Andanje of Kenya:

“The fact that there is overwhelming support by Governments, NGOs and Civil Society groups for the humanitarian consequences conferences demonstrates the growing opposition to the constant threat nuclear weapons pose. People are beginning to stand up. Very soon they will say “enough’ Every citizen of the world community has the right and duty to oppose the existence of nuclear weapons. Naturally, the talk of banning nuclear weapons is the next logical step. It should not cause anxiety.”



  • 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