In October, Ms Christine Beerli, Vice President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) made a statement to the United Nations General Assembly, 71st session, general debate on disarmament. It may be read in full here.
She stressed that, for the ICRC, debates about weapons must always consider evidence of their foreseeable human costs in light of the strict limits imposed by international humanitarian law on the use of weapons. IHL treaties include the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols, and a series of other instruments.
The international community now has before it overwhelming evidence of the horrific, long-term and irreversible effects of these weapons on health, the environment, climate and food production – that is, on everything on which human life depends.
Already twenty years ago, based on evidence before it, the International Court of Justice (in its Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons) found that the effects of nuclear weapons could not be contained in space or time, and concluded that the use of these weapons “would generally be contrary to” the principles and rules of IHL.
The UN Open-Ended Working Group “Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations” in August with widespread support, proposed that the General Assembly convene a conference in 2017, open to all, to negotiate a treaty “to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.
Although the prohibition of nuclear weapons is only one of the measures needed to ensure they are never again used and are eliminated, it is an indispensable building block in reaching the universal goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. As with chemical and biological weapons, unambiguous prohibition is both the foundation for disarmament and a disincentive for proliferation.