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Interfaith Statement Pushes for Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

By Santo D. Banerjee

Photo: Civil society at the UN General Assembly First Committee, October 2018

NEW YORK (IDN) – Faith Communities Concerned about Nuclear Weapons – a group of diverse faith-based organizations and individuals committed to a nuclear-weapon-free world – have called for urgent action for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

"As people of faith, we advocate for the right of all people to live in security and dignity; we seek to heed the commands of conscience and the call to justice; we are united in our determination to protect the vulnerable and to exercise the stewardship that will safeguard Earth for present and future generations," says the group in the public statement submitted in October to the UN General Assembly's First Committee in New York.

The statement is the tenth of its kind issued by the group since 2014. For the first time it also stresses the dangers posed by Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), as well as the threat of a new international arms race.

It points out that Article 26 of the United Nations Charter envisages the "establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources."

However, it adds, in the decades since the adoption of the Charter, the world has committed immense stores of material, economic, technical and intellectual resources to the production and maintenance of a vast and growing array of armaments.

Far from ensuring peace and security, these preparations for war and violence have locked states into the "security dilemma" of escalating mistrust and fear. They have inflamed and entrenched conflicts throughout the world, bringing unimaginable suffering to vast numbers of people.

"These armaments have squandered precious resources that could be used to meet human needs, hampered human development and human rights, and undermined the cause of human security. They have not made the world safer," the Faith Communities Concerned about Nuclear Weapons declare.

They share the concern expressed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in the UN’s new  disarmament agenda 'Securing Our Common Future', that the world today stands on the "brink of a new cold war". They fully support the Secretary-General’s call to tackle this new reality through disarmament to save humanity, disarmament that saves lives and disarmament for future generations.

The statement continues:

"To its enduring credit, the UN has proven itself as a forum for building new norms and treaties in arms control and disarmament. Recent examples include the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

"In furthering the disarmament agenda, it has also established the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), which is examining  the use of unmanned and increasingly autonomous weapons systems.

"Such processes demand sustained international commitment. They have shed light on the need to improve compliance, capacity and transparency throughout the chain by which arms are designed and manufactured to where they are put to use. Multilateral forums are essential because new technologies must not be allowed to escape ethical and legal restraints under a collective commitment to the rule of law.

"LAWS can select and engage individual targets without meaningful human control. Such weapons are unlikely to be able to adhere to International Humanitarian Law as it is unlikely that they will be able to properly distinguish between civilians and combatants, or to make a proportionality assessment.

"While the deployment of LAWS might result in an asymmetric lowering of military casualties, it is likely to also lower the threshold for the use of force and could increase civilian harm. These weapons could lead to accidental and rapid escalation of conflict as fully autonomous weapons react and interact with each other at speeds beyond human control.

"As people of faith, we share common concerns about fundamental moral and ethical questions that LAWS raise regarding the right to life, the principles of international humanitarian and human rights law, as well  as the threat of a new international arms race.

"Nuclear weapons manifest the dire results of new lethal technologies that have been allowed to escape the dictates of public conscience. The continued maintenance, modernization and proliferation of nuclear weapons systems represent the nadir of humanity’s self-destructive impulses and a deplorable diversion of resources from the imperatives of sustainable human development.

"Nuclear weapons profoundly violate all these values and commitments. We can never accept a conception of security that privileges the concerns of any state or nation over the good of the human and planetary whole. The horrific destructiveness of nuclear weapons makes their abolition the only path to authentic human security. In July of last year, in an important step toward a world free from nuclear weapons, the TPNW was adopted by 122 governments."

The Faith Communities Concerned about Nuclear Weapons strongly urge all States that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the TPNW. And, as people of faith, they urge the General Assembly to:

  1. Address the issue of disarmament not only as integral to the security agenda seen from military and political perspectives but also as a moral and ethical imperative;
  2. Support proposals for substantive discussions in multilateral forums on a legally-binding instrument to prohibit LAWS;
  3. Heed the voices of the world’s hibakusha (all the victims of nuclear weapons) and recommit to the unequivocal undertaking to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons;
  4. Recognize that the fundamental justification for the TPNW is the prevention of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of such weapons and that its early entry into force is necessary.

The statement was introduced by Bruce Knotts, President of the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security (NGOC DPS), during a side event To Safeguard Future Generations – Multi-Faith Responses to the Threat of Nuclear Weapons.

Dr. Emily Welty, Vice Moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC), commented: “Speaking collectively about how nuclear weapons violate the values at the core of our diverse faith traditions, working together to assist victims, restore the environment and demand that powerful governments care for human beings is what I believe we are called to do as people of faith.”

A press release in the Religion News Service (RNS) quotes Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Executive Director for Peace and Global Issues Kazuo Ishiwatari saying: “No machine should ever have the right to decide on life and death. It is frightening to imagine any further advance in the automation of the processes controlling the targeting and launching of nuclear weapons.”

The SGI statement  highlights: "The struggle to eliminate nuclear weapons represents a crucial opportunity for humankind to recover long-threatened qualities of agency, dignity, freedom and solidarity. These quintessentially human qualities can be effectively deployed in the resolution of the pressing, planetwide challenges we face.”

At the side event, the crucial role of faith-based organizations was stressed by Ambassador Thomas Hajnoczi of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and representatives of various faiths.

The event, held at United Nations Headquarters in New York, was co-organized by NGOCDPS and the Permanent Missions to the UN in New York of Austria, Nigeria, Thailand and South Africa.

According to RNS, on October 17, together with the Interfaith Statement, SGI submitted its own official statement to Marissa Edwards (Guyana), Vice-Chair of the First Committee on Disarmament and International Security. Ms. Edwards expressed her appreciation for the efforts made by faith communities and conveyed the statements to the Chair of the First Committee, Ambassador of Romania to the UN Ion Jinga. [IDN-InDepthNews – 11 November 2018]

Photo: Civil society at the UN General Assembly First Committee, October 2018

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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