By John Hallam – People For Nuclear Disarmament Human Survival Project
At the United Nations in New York, a meeting convened by a December 2016 vote of the UN General Assembly has voted to make nuclear weapons illegal.
The decisive vote of 122 ‘yes’ to 1 ‘no’ vote took place this morning in the vast and packed Conference Room 1 just off the first sub-basement of the UN, after the Netherlands called for a vote. They were the sole ‘NO’ vote though Singapore abstained.
The vote was followed by prolonged cheers and clapping both from the many nongovernmental organisations present in the completely full Conference room 1 and in an overflow room, also completely full.
The President of the conference, Ambassador Elaine Whyte-Gomez of Costa Rica, could be seen with a number of other delegates, wiping away tears as the numbers flashed onto the electronic voting board.
As the vote was announced, she announced that there was a very long list of Governments that wished to speak about the decision. In fact as I write this release in the lunch-break that list has not been exhausted.
The vote followed three weeks of often agonizing negotiations, as well as two days of preliminary negotiations in March.
The Nuclear Prohibition Treaty arguably reinforces what is already implicit in both International Humanitarian Law and in article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), namely that nuclear weapons are illegal.
While it could be argued that nuclear weapons are already illegal this treaty for the first time provides an explicit multilateral legal instrument that outlaws them.
In taking the floor, country after country noted the historic nature of what was being done. Other weapons of mass destruction such as biological weapons and chemical weapons, as well as landmines, are illegal. Yet until today, a specific instrument outlawing nuclear weapons has not been in existence. Now, there is one. Governments also noted the critical role of civil society in bringing about this result, as well as its existential necessity.
People for Nuclear Disarmament’s nuclear weapons campaigner John Hallam, who has been present for the full three weeks of the negotiation as well as participating in some of the conferences leading up to it, noted that:
” Nuclear weapons remain the only weapon that can destroy both civilization and much of the biosphere in less than a couple of hours and can do so by mistake – a mistake that has nearly taken place on upwards of a dozen terrifying occasions already.”
“To eliminate nuclear weapons completely is an survival imperative that civilization cannot evade. Its clear that the overwhelming majority of the worlds Governments understand that narrow considerations of so called ‘national security’ cannot override the imperative of the survival of civilization and of the human species, which nuclear weapons place in jeopardy. We call on all Governments without exception, including especially the Governments of the ‘official’ nuclear weapon states and other states that possess nuclear weapons, to do their moral duty to the rest of the planet and to join the treaty and eliminate their nuclear arsenals.”
“Ultimately, if we completely fail to eliminate nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons will eliminate us. Nuclear abolition is not a ‘feel-good some-century’ ambition. It is an urgent survival imperative and needs to be prioritised as such. The majority of the worlds Governments have shown that they understand that very well. Now the states that have nuclear weapons must come on board”
“We call on all Governments without exception, no matter what kinds of military alliances they may be involved with, to join the Treaty and to make the necessary changes in their security policies.”
People for Nuclear Disarmament
Human Survival Project