ICAN statements to the negotiating conference


At the March session of the UN conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, ICAN delivered four statements as a coalition.

At the March session of the UN conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, ICAN delivered the following four statements as a coalition. Many of our partner organizations also delivered statements, which are available here.


Opening statement

Delivered by Setsuko Thurlow, 27 March 2017

I am honoured to be given this opportunity, as a survivor from Hiroshima, to speak at this historic occasion. Already 72 years have passed since my beloved hometown was utterly destroyed by one atomic bomb.

Those of us who survived became convinced that no human being should ever have to experience the inhumanity and unspeakable suffering of nuclear weapons. And we hibakusha have worked tirelessly for decades for the total elimination of these devices of mass murder and cross-generational radioactive violence.

We made a vow to our loved ones that their death will not be in vain. By now about 250,000 people have perished in Hiroshima alone – many people whose dream was nuclear abolition in their lifetime.

Whenever I remember Hiroshima, the first image that comes to my mind is my four-year-old nephew who was transformed in an unrecognizable, blackened, swollen, melted chunk of flesh, who kept begging for water in a faint voice until his death released him from agony. This little boy’s image has come to represent in my mind all the innocent children in the world, threatened as they are at this very moment by nuclear weapons.

Your task this week, and again over three weeks in June and July, is to establish a clear, new, international standard – to declare, in no uncertain terms, that nuclear weapons are illegitimate, immoral and illegal.

I am not naïve. I know that some nations will dismiss this instrument. They will cling to their misguided belief that they are somehow entitled to possess these life-destroying weapons, which threaten us all.

I especially condemn the Japanese government’s inability to fully commit to these negotiations. They claim to be playing a vital role in nuclear disarmament by bringing foreign dignitaries to Hiroshima with the hope that they will learn the reality of the nuclear catastrophe.

But these are empty, evasive actions as they continue to take shelter under the United States’ nuclear umbrella. Instead they should take an independent position which responds to the will of the Japanese people.

For those of you delegates, who are genuinely serious about disarmament, I want you to feel the presence of not only the future generations who will benefit from your negotiations to ban nuclear weapons, but to feel a cloud of witnesses from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The memories and images of those who perished have always supported and guided me. I think this is how many survivors have kept on living – to make sure that the deaths of their loved ones were not in vain.

As you proceed through this week, I want you to also feel their support and presence. And do your job well! And know that we hibakusha have no doubt that this treaty can – and will – change the world.


Preambular elements

Delivered by Linnet Ngayu on 28 March 2017

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, wishes to make the following recommendations for the preamble: First and foremost, it must convey our deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons – and our determination, for the sake of all humankind, to eliminate these abhorrent, earth-destroying weapons forevermore.

It should stress the need to ensure the full realization of the rights of all victims of nuclear weapons, bearing in mind the sanctity and equality of all human life. We acknowledge the disproportionate and ongoing impact of the use, testing and development of nuclear weapons on women and girls and indigenous communities around the world.

It should underscore the need to rehabilitate, to the greatest extent possible, environments affected by nuclear weapons. The relationship between humanity and the environment is essential and interconnected for the sustenance of our common home.

It should emphasize that, in a world where basic human needs have not yet been met, the vast resources allocated to the production, modernization and maintenance of nuclear arsenals must be redirected towards human development and viable societies.

It should highlight the role of public conscience in furthering the principles of humanity, as evidenced by the global call of ICAN, the Red Cross and the world’s faiths for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

It should welcome the broad support for the international norms prohibiting other indiscriminate weapons, including biological and toxin weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. It should reaffirm the applicability of international humanitarian law to the use of nuclear weapons.

Finally, it should reaffirm that there exists an obligation under international law to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons. In short, the preamble must convey our firm belief that these are wholly unacceptable an unethical weapons, given their indiscriminate nature, their inherent immorality and their potential to cause indiscriminate harm and annihilate humanity and the planet as a whole.


Core prohibitions and positive obligations

Delivered by Thea Katrin Mjelstad, 29 March 2017

The community of nations must fully seize this historic opportunity to establish an unambiguous, comprehensive global prohibition on the very worst weapons of mass destruction. Our task is of utmost urgency and importance.

We are confident – based on past experience with other inherently indiscriminate, inhumane weapons – that this will prove a vital step in our quest to eradicate this ultimate menace from earth.

ICAN believes that the treaty should prohibit its parties from engaging in such activities as the development, production, testing, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer, deployment and use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.

It should also prohibit its parties from assisting, financing, encouraging, and inducing such activities. We must fill the legal gap completely. We must ban these weapons categorically. This will be essential if we are to establish an effective global norm and powerful stigma against these horrific weapons.

No party to the treaty should be permitted to maintain nuclear weapons on its territory or engage in preparations for their use. All parties must fully reject any role for nuclear weapons in their military arrangements. Let us be clear: This is not a treaty to entrench the status quo. This is a treaty to compel positive change. Without change, we will, to quote Einstein, drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.

Our task is to develop the highest possible legal standard against these planet-endangering devices. We must leave no room for uncertainty about their illegality. As Setsuko Thurlow, the Hiroshima survivor, said yesterday: States must declare, in no uncertain terms, that these weapons are illegitimate, immoral and illegal.

We should all be confident that change is possible. We can already see many cracks in the nuclear edifice. And those cracks are widening and deepening as we pursue this treaty. People and parliaments around the world are demanding an end to their nations’ reliance on nuclear weapons. Major political parties in nuclear-reliant nations are lending their full support to this historic process.

We are confident that, in time – as the membership of this new treaty grows – we can compel these states to join. The pressure from the public and the international community to conform to the new global norm will be too great to bear. They will see the merits of liberating themselves – and the world – from these weapons. It would be a grave error to establish anything less than a categorical prohibition.

ICAN also believes that the treaty must contain a legal obligation to destroy nuclear stockpiles and establish a framework to achieve their total elimination. Merely referencing elimination in the preamble would be entirely unsatisfactory from our perspective.

Having said that, detailed provisions for the verified destruction of nuclear stockpiles need not be negotiated at this stage. A simple obligation to destroy nuclear stockpiles would be sufficient. Parties to the treaty could agree to relevant measures and timelines as part of the implementation process, through protocols or other appropriate legal instruments.

We also believe that the treaty should include an obligation to ensure the full realization of the rights of victims of nuclear weapons. And it should include an obligation to ensure the rehabilitation – to the greatest extent possible – of environments affected by nuclear detonations. Such provisions need not be overly complicated. They certainly need not prolong this negotiating process.

These are our general views on the core prohibitions and positive obligations to be included in the treaty.


Institutional arrangements

Delivered by Maaike Beenes, 31 March 2017

Almost half a century has passed since governments concluded the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Without a doubt, the negotiations now under way are the most significant, most promising initiative aimed at implementing the disarmament objective of that landmark agreement.

Outlawing nuclear weapons is a moral and humanitarian imperative. It is also a legal imperative, stemming from article VI of the NPT and customary international law. Far from undermining the NPT, the ban will complement and reinforce it. It will spur long-overdue – and urgent – progress towards abolition, and be a further disincentive against proliferation.

It will also build on nuclear-weapon-free zones, which now cover much of the world. In a sense, it will globalize the regional norms that such zones have created. We have a chance, in other words, to make the taboo against nuclear weapons universal.

As many delegations have stressed, the successful conclusion of this treaty is not our end point. Much work will be needed to achieve its full implementation and universalization. Additional legal instruments – on verification, for instance – will be essential for reaching the goal of elimination.

The treaty should also build on, and draw from, treaties outlawing other indiscriminate weapons – biological weapons, chemical weapons, landmines and cluster munitions.

Importantly, it should provide for regular meetings of states parties and review conferences to consider and take decisions on its application or implementation. Non-parties, the United Nations, the Red Cross, ICAN and other relevant organizations, as well as members of academia, should be invited to participate in such meetings as observers.

The treaty should expressly forbid reservations, as do most other weapon-related treaties. Allowing parties to make reservations would greatly diminish the normative impact of the treaty and risk defeating its very purpose.

It should contain a simple entry-into-force provision, whereby the treaty would become binding international law once a certain number of states have ratified it. Entry into force must not be contingent upon the ratification of any particular state or group of states. All states are equal and must be treated as such under this treaty.

It should be of unlimited duration and allow for the possibility of amendments. It should provide for international cooperation and assistance in meeting the obligations of the treaty. And it should include a commitment to encourage non-parties to join the treaty, with the ultimate goal of universalization.

States parties should take all appropriate legal, administrative and other measures, including the imposition of penal sanctions, to prevent or suppress prohibited activities.

The treaty should establish an entity to promote implementation, to ensure compliance with its provisions, and to provide a forum for consultation and cooperation among states parties. This entity should also have a mandate to educate the global public about the treaty, as well as the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

We believe that such institutional arrangements will help ensure that the treaty is truly effective in achieving its objectives.