Human Rights Versus Nuclear Weapons: New Dimensions

By LCNP
Commentary and Analysis regarding UN Human Rights Committee General Comment no. 36; the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; Human Rights, Democracy, and Nuclear Weapons

Available as download below

We are witnessing a resurgence of interest in the application of international human rights law to one of the principal threats to the human future: nuclear weapons. A general comment issued by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2018 finds the threat or use of nuclear weapons to be incompatible with respect for the right to life. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons adopted a year earlier is suffused with a humanitarian perspective, protects the rights of victims of testing and use of nuclear arms, and cites human rights law and the principles of humanity in its preamble.

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP) twice brought together leading lawyers, law professors, and analysts to reflect on these developments, in December 2018 and in May 2019. This publication collects papers based on the speakers’ remarks.

  • Prof. Roger Clark of Rutgers Law, LCNP Executive Director Ariana Smith, LCNP President Emeritus Peter Weiss, and Dr. Daniel Rietiker of the University of Lausanne examine and reflect upon the significance and implications of the finding of the UN Human Rights Committee.
  • Bonnie Docherty of the Harvard Law International Human Rights Clinic addresses human rights aspects of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
  • Andrew Lichterman of Western States Legal Foundation explores how human rights discourse could be a terrain for making connections between disarmament movements and other movements for a more fair, democratic, and ecologically sustainable society.

This publication is highly recommended reading for anyone seeking to understand how a human rights approach can contribute to the abolition of nuclear weapons.

JALANA Statement on EIF of TPNW

Statement to welcome the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and pursue a “world without nuclear weapons and war”


The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (“the Treaty” hereinafter) has come into effect today.
The Treaty has been a long-time wish of the Hibakusha (A-Bomb survivors). People around the world including the Hibakusha, who seek peace and nuclear disarmament, have continued to stress that “human beings cannot coexist with nuclear weapons,” and their call finally has led the Treaty to take effect.
The entry into force of the Treaty prohibits its States Parties from developing, testing, possessing, transferring, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, and it legally obligates them to abolish such weapons. And even in relation with non-State Parties, this entry into force advances illegalization of nuclear weapons under international customary law and their delegitimization.
The entry into force of the Treaty is a historical step toward a “world without nuclear weapons” while the world is going to arms buildup despite the global crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. We welcome the entry into force of the Treaty from the bottom of our hearts.

This Treaty recognizes that: the only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons are never used again is their complete elimination; a legally binding prohibition of nuclear weapons constitutes an important contribution towards the achievement and maintenance of a world free of nuclear weapons; and it is a global public good of the highest order, serving both national and collective security interests. In addition, the Treaty considers that any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the principles and rules of international humanitarian law.
Although the Treaty does not directly or legally bind the nuclear weapons states which are not parties to it, it has a great influence on interpretation of the international humanitarian law concerning nuclear weapons use. Nuclear weapons states know this, and therefore they are hostile to the Treaty. The legal significance of the entry into force of the Treaty is never small in a way to realize a “world without nuclear weapons.”
In addition, Article 4 of the Treaty (Towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons) opens a way for nuclear weapons states to join the Treaty. Article 12 provides that “(e)ach State Party shall encourage States not party to this Treaty to sign, ratify, …the Treaty, with the goal of universal adherence of all States to the Treaty.” It seeks universalization of the Treaty.
However, the government of Japan, the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks in wartime, is not willing to sign or ratify the Treaty. The reason is that Japan bases its security on the extended nuclear deterrence relying on the US nuclear umbrella. Such an attitude of the Japanese government shows that they do not look straightly at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences resulting from nuclear
weapons use, which is by no means acceptable for the only country to have suffered atomic bombings in wartime. Nuclear deterrence cannot be a base for security, and the security of Japan should be pursued by joining the Treaty.
Japanese government should take the lead in signing and ratifying the Treaty.
We must not forget that the prohibition of nuclear weapons is not enough to abolish use of force using conventional weapons or realize a “world without nuclear weapons and war.” We need to universalize worldwide a thorough norm of non-military pacifism, in other words, renunciation of war, non-possession of armed forces, and denial of the right of belligerency provided in Article 9 of the Japanese constitution.
We strongly demand that states possessing or depending on nuclear weapons including Japan sign and ratify the Treaty at an early date.
Finally, we pledge to continue our efforts to realize a “world without nuclear weapons and war” at the earliest possible date through universalizing worldwide the norm of non-military pacifism of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world including the Hibakusha.
January 22, 2021
Kenichi Okubo, President,
Japan Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms

Open letter by IALANA Italy to President Giuseppe Conte

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
View the original in Italian

Dear President Prof. Giuseppe Conte

Next January 22, 2020 – 75 years after Hiroshima – the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPAN) will enter into force.

In 2017 with the favorable vote at the UN of 121 States and ratification by 51 States, finally the majority of States decided to implement the international obligation, ex art.6 of the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of 1968 “to pursue in good faith and conclude negotiations leading to global nuclear disarmament and under strict and effective international control” (see also: The device letter F of the Advisory opinion of 8.7.1996 International Court of Justice).

Nuclear states and their allies including Italy have unlawfully refused to participate in negotiations and/or adhere to this new treaty prohibiting the threat and use, possession, production and sale of nuclear weapons and have, on December 4, 2019, declared from London: “NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.” In October 2020, Italian troops participated in the steadfast noon 2020 exercise to perfect the evidence of a nuclear war against Russia by virtually destroying urban and industrial centers in the territorial depth of Central Asia. Unfortunately, there is no lack of other signs from the nuclear states and their allies of wanting to use these weapons, which draw their supreme advantage only from the fact of their unusability, that is, from the abnormality of their destructive power.

In this context, the writers believe it appropriate to point out that the joint planning of the use of nuclear weapons in Italy by NATO, through the decision of the American president, in addition to being contrary to Articles 10 and 11 of our Constitution and the Treaty of Non-Proliferation, exposes the Italian population to severe dangers especially in situations of political and social instability such as those we have witnessed in recent days.

Faced with the growing threat of these weapons of mass destruction being used, it seems right that Italy should fulfill its international obligation to adhere to the new TPAN and/or to renounce their use and to free Italian territory from these weapons that violate the humanitarian norms of the ius in bello. Your government and you personally are therefore called to the historic task of contributing to the final elimination of a danger to the very existence of the human race and every other form of life on our planet and urgently authorize the ratification in Italy of the new TPAN (See draft motion of May 29, 2019 by Senator Loredana De Petris).

Sincerely, lawyer Dr.Joachim Lau

Building Blocks for Nuclear Ban Treaty: NPT & Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice

By Dr. John Burroughs, Senior Analyst, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy

NEW YORK, Nov 2 2020 (IPS) – The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will become binding law for participating states on January 22, 2021. Entry into force was triggered on October 24, the date marking the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, when Honduras become the 50th state to ratify the TPNW, reaching the threshold set by the treaty.

This is a signal accomplishment on the part of the 122 states, none nuclear-armed, that negotiated and adopted the TPNW in 2017, along with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which provided expert advice, and the International Campaign to Aboilish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a civil society initiative that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

Together, the negotiating states, the ICRC, and ICAN took responsibility for creating a path toward the global elimination of nuclear weapons, essentially because the world’s most powerful states – all nuclear armed – are failing to do so.

Read the full article

Statement on the Imminent Entry into Force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

As of 24 October, 50 states have ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). By its terms (Article 15), the treaty will enter into force in 90 days, becoming legally binding for states that have joined the treaty.

The treaty was negotiated in 2017 and adopted in New York on 7 July 2017 by 122 states voting in favor (one against and one abstention), none of them possessors of nuclear arms. They took responsibility for creating a path toward the global elimination of nuclear weapons, essentially because the world’s most powerful states—all nuclear-armed—are failing to do so despite the disarmament obligation set forth in Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The central theme of the process leading to the adoption of the treaty was the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of use of nuclear weapons.

The TPNW robustly recognizes and reinforces existing international law requiring the non-use and elimination of nuclear weapons. That law applies to states whether or not they join the treaty, as the treaty’s preamble recognizes.

  • The preamble reaffirms the need for all states at all times to comply with international humanitarian law forbidding, inter alia, the infliction of indiscriminate harm and unnecessary suffering, as well as with international human rights law, and considers that any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to international humanitarian law.
  • It also reaffirms the universal obligation to pursue in good faith and conclude negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control. This obligation was affirmed in a unanimous conclusion of the International Court of Justice in the 1996 Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons.

In an innovation in the nuclear weapons sphere reflecting the rise of human- and victim-centred disarmament, the TPNW sets forth obligations of assistance to victims of testing and use of nuclear weapons and of environmental remediation of areas affected by testing and use (Article 6). It also requires states parties in a position to do so to assist affected states parties with victim assistance and environmental remediation (Article 7). These provisions are important because they recognize and address concretely the unacceptable suffering and devastation that have resulted from the use and testing of nuclear arms, and which could result again if current trends in global affairs are not reversed.

China, France, the Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and United States are the five states acknowledged by the NPT to possess nuclear weapons pending their elimination in accordance with its Article VI, and also the permanent members of the Security Council. They have repeatedly and jointly stated their opposition to the TPNW and their intention not to join the treaty. The United States reportedly has gone so far as to press states that have ratified the TPNW to withdraw their ratifications so that the treaty does not enter into force.

The Permanent Five’s opposition to the TPNW is counterproductive to the cause of disarmament. They instead should welcome the treaty as a reinforcement of obligations of non-acquisition of nuclear weapons set out in the NPT and regional nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties and as a powerful statement of the moral, political, and legal principles that should guide the abolition of nuclear arms.

IALANA welcomes the ratification of the TPNW by 50 states triggering its entry into force in 90 days. We encourage other states to consider ratification in the near future.

IALANA is a partner of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Japanese Translation

Wind of Change in Nuclear Disarmament: The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as a New Example of Humanitarian, Victim – centered Arms Control

The adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in New York, on July 7, 2017, shifted the paradigm in nuclear disarmament after more than twenty years of stagnation in the field. After biological and chemical weapons bans in 1972 and 1993, respectively, the remaining weapons of mass destruction will be banned once the TPNW enters into force. Even though there is considerable disagreement on the practical impact of a treaty for nuclear disarmament and international security, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the coalition that was instrumental in the negotiations and adoption of the treaty, demonstrates the treaty’s significance and immediate impact.

READ the full paper by Daniel Rietiker

Article by Article – Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Brochure by Daniel Rietiker and Manfred Mohr

The events of July 7, 2017 at the United Nations in New York deserve our attention. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)
constitutes a real paradigm shift, and the end of a period of stagnation in
nuclear disarmament of more than 20 years. After biological (1972) and
chemical weapons (1993), the remaining type of weapons of mass destruction will be banned once the treaty enters into force. Continue reading “Article by Article – Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”