As governments work to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, progress continues to be made towards eliminating another great threat to humanity: nuclear weapons. On 20 March, Namibia became the 36th nation to ratify or accede to the landmark 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which establishes a categorical ban on the worst weapons of mass destruction and provides a pathway to their total elimination. Several other nations have also recently indicated that, despite these very difficult times, they are continuing to take steps towards ratifying the TPNW.
Only 14 more ratifications are now needed to reach the threshold to bring the TPNW into legal force. For some governments, the novel coronavirus pandemic has only intensified their resolve to make rapid progress towards a nuclear-weapon-free world, given the devastating humanitarian, environmental and economic consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. As the preamble to the TPNW underscores, the effects of nuclear weapons “cannot be adequately addressed, transcend national borders, [and] pose grave implications for human survival”.
In an online meeting with ICAN campaigners following Namibia’s ratification, the permanent representative of Namibia to the United Nations, Ambassador Neville Gertze, stressed that all nations must do their utmost to ensure that no one else ever suffers as the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered in 1945. He added: “I really hope that, on this occasion of Namibia’s joining, we can encourage more [UN] member states to come on board, that we can in this way make our contribution towards a world that is much safer, and that we can do away with these illegal weapons.”
The TPNW enjoys strong support across Africa: 42 African nations voted in favour of the treaty’s adoption at the United Nations in July 2017, and 25 have so far signed it, with three having also completed their ratification processes: the Gambia, South Africa, and now Namibia. In a statement to the disarmament and international security committee of the UN General Assembly in October 2019, African nations said that “all [UN] member states are being urged to sign and ratify at the earliest for a world free of nuclear weapons”. Collectively, they have welcomed the adoption of the “landmark” TPNW as a “watershed” moment.
In March 2018, the states parties to the African nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty, known as the Treaty of Pelindaba, called upon all African Union member states “to speedily sign and ratify the [TPNW], emphasising that it advances international law in nuclear disarmament and is consistent with the goals of the Treaty of Pelindaba”. In addition, the African Union’s peace and security council adopted a communique in April 2019 noting this call to action and recalling “the strong support of member states to the process leading to the [TPNW’s] development”.
In August 2018, the government of South Africa and ICAN co-hosted the African Regional Conference on Nuclear Disarmament in Pretoria, at which delegates representing 20 African states, including Namibia, discussed the ethical and moral imperatives for nuclear disarmament and the importance of the TPNW in advancing this goal. They issued a statement pledging “to work with policymakers in capitals to effect the policy processes necessary to ensure signature and ratification of the TPNW and hence the swift entry into force of the treaty”.
2 April 2020