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The prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons is a humanitarian imperative
by Peter Maurer, President of the ICRC
International Red Cross, Red Crescent Movement
5:37pm 30th Mar, 2017
7 July 2017
UN conference adopts treaty banning nuclear weapons. (UN News)
Countries meeting at a United Nations conference in New York today adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years.
“The treaty represents an important step and contribution towards the common aspirations of a world without nuclear weapons,” the spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres said following its adoption.
“The Secretary-General hopes that this new treaty will promote inclusive dialogue and renewed international cooperation aimed at achieving the long overdue objective of nuclear disarmament,” Stéphane Dujarric added.
The treaty – adopted by a vote of 122 in favour to one against (Netherlands), with one abstention (Singapore) – prohibits a full range of nuclear-weapon-related activities, such as undertaking to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons.
“We feel emotional because we are responding to the hopes and dreams of the present and future generations,” said Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica, who serves as the President of the conference that negotiated the treaty in response to a mandate given by the UN General Assembly.
She told a news conference at UN Headquarters that with the treaty the world is “one step closer” to a total elimination of nuclear weapons.
The treaty will be open for signature to all States at UN Headquarters in New York on 20 September 2017, and enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries.
In response to questions on the joint statement, Ms. Whyte Gómez recalled that when the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was adopted decades ago, it did not enjoy a large number of accessions.
Opened for signature in 1968, the Treaty entered into force in 1970. Then in 1995, the Treaty was extended indefinitely. A total of 191 States have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States that are the permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
In the beginning, it was unimaginable that those States would be parties to the NPT, she noted. “But the world changes and the circumstances change.”
She added that the hibakusha, survivors of nuclear bombs, have been the driving force in the creation of the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. The experiences they have been sharing “touch the human soul,” she said, adding that the negotiations were a “combination of reason and heart.”
May 2017
The prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons is a humanitarian imperative, says the International Red Cross, Red Crescent Movement.
United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading to their Total Elimination. Statement of Mr Peter Maurer, President of the ICRC.
I am honoured to address this United Nations Conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.
The prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons is a humanitarian imperative.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement know this all too well. In 1945, we witnessed first-hand the horrific effects of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as we attempted to bring relief to the dying and injured.
Seventy-two years on, we bear witness to the long-term effects of nuclear weapons, as Japanese Red Cross hospitals continue to treat many thousands of victims of cancers caused by radiation exposure.
Evidence of the indiscriminate effects and unspeakable suffering caused by nuclear weapons raise significant doubts about their compatibility with international humanitarian law.
And today, a large majority of States recognize that the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons must drive efforts towards nuclear disarmament, including those undertaken by this Conference.
The historic significance of this Conference cannot be overstated. More than seven decades after calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons were first made, States are finally meeting at global level to prohibit these weapons under international law.
Of course, adopting a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons will not make them immediately disappear. But it will reinforce the stigma against their use, support commitments to nuclear risk reduction, and be a disincentive for proliferation.
It will be a concrete step towards fulfilling existing commitments for nuclear disarmament, notably those of Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. As with chemical and biological weapons, a clear and unambiguous prohibition is the cornerstone of their elimination.
Nuclear weapons are the most terrifying weapon ever invented. They are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, and in the impossibility of controlling their effects in space and time.
They threaten irreversible harm to the environment and to future generations. Indeed, they threaten the very survival of humanity.
So it is in the name of humanity that I appeal to delegates at this Conference to work with urgency and determination, to adopt a clear and unambiguous prohibition of nuclear weapons, grounded in international humanitarian law.
In doing so, you will take an essential and historic step towards bringing the era of nuclear weapons to an end.
27 March 2017
Possessing nuclear weapons ‘fundamentally incompatible’ with our aspiration for peace. (UN News)
At the start of a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, a senior UN official highlighted that creating a world free of such weapons is a common obligation of all States – both nuclear and non-nuclear – and called for their inclusive engagement.
“Let us all work harder and more creatively, so that we can achieve our common goal of a world, safer and more secure, without nuclear weapons, and better for all,” said Kim Won-soo, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.
Speaking on behalf of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, he also expressed hope that the instrument will also strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and advance the world closer to the total elimination of nuclear weapons and that it would make important contribution to nuclear disarmament and to our ultimate objective of general and complete disarmament.
According to 2016 estimates, more than 15,000 nuclear warheads remain in global stockpiles.
While this is a reduction from the inventories maintained during the Cold War, the pace of the reduction has declined in recent years and concerns are rising over continued reliance on nuclear weapons in security doctrines and continuing programmes to modernize and improve nuclear weapons.
Mr. Kim also stressed that the pursuit of nuclear as well as non-nuclear strategic weapons would not create security but instead can provoke “new and destabilizing” arms races as well as exacerbate regional and global tension.
“The possession of nuclear weapons, which are linked with the threat of their use, is fundamentally incompatible with humanity’s common aspirations for peace and security,” he said.
* Webcasts from the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons:

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