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Canadian and French Nuclear Weapons Policies Challenged for Violating the Right to Life

By Jaya Ramachandran

Photo: UN Human Rights Committee session. Credit: Jaurocks

GENEVA (IDN) — Spurred by civil society organisations, the UN Human Rights Committee has challenged the nuclear weapons policies of Canada and France as being in violation of the Right to Life, a right enshrined in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person. [2021-06-07 | 04]  ARABIC |  JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | KOREAN

In addition to Canada and France, civil society organisations have also challenged the nuclear policies of Iceland, North Korea, Russia and the United States. The nuclear weapons policies of Denmark have been challenged as part of the periodic review of their obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

The importance of issues brought up in the UN Human Rights Committee lies in the fact that a single nuclear warhead could kill hundreds of thousands of people, with lasting and devastating humanitarian and environmental consequences.

Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea possess an estimated total of nearly 14,000 nuclear weapons, most of which are many times more powerful than the nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima. Thirty-one other states are also part of the problem.

Besides, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey all host U.S. nuclear weapons. The United States insists that it maintains operational control of these weapons but their stationing in these countries helps U.S. nuclear war planning.

Twenty-six countries (plus the five hosts) also "endorse" the possession and use of nuclear weapons by allowing the potential use of nuclear weapons on their behalf as part of defence alliances, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

The challengers in the UN Human Rights Committee come from groups of civil society organisations. In submissions made as part of the periodic review of the obligations of Canada and France under the ICCPR, they have made recommendations to the governments on actions they could take in order to conform to the right to life with respect to the protection of this right from the threat or use of nuclear weapons.

Canada does not have any nuclear weapons of its own. But on Canada’s nuclear weapons policy and the Right to Life, the submissions argue: “Canada’s support for and participation in NATO policy and practice of the threat to use nuclear weapons, and in preparations by NATO to potentially use nuclear weapons including the option to initiate a nuclear war, are violations of Canada’s responsibilities under the ICCPR to protect the right to life.”

The challengers in the UN Human Rights Committee are Aotearoa Lawyers for Peace, Basel Peace Office, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, Religions for Peace Canada, World Federalist Movement Canada, World Future Council, and Youth Fusion high

The UN Human Rights Committee adopted General Comment 36 in October 2018, which affirmed, among others, that the threat or use of nuclear weapons ‘is incompatible with respect for the right to life and may amount to a crime under international law’.

The Comment further noted that States parties to the ICCPR must ‘refrain from developing, producing, testing, acquiring, stockpiling, selling, transferring and using them, to destroy existing stockpiles, and to take adequate measures of protection against accidental use, all in accordance with their international obligations'.

The Human Rights Committee's Statement adds that States parties ‘must also respect their international obligations to pursue in good faith negotiations in order to achieve the aim of nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control and to afford adequate reparation to victims whose right to life has been or is being adversely affected by the testing or use of weapons of mass destruction.

France possesses 290 nuclear weapons. The challengers say France is violating its obligations to protect the Right to Life under the ICCPR by the development, testing, production and maintenance of nuclear weapons and by the deployment, threat to use and preparations to use nuclear weapons in a wide range of security scenarios, including the option to use nuclear weapons first in an armed conflict.

Obligations to protect the Right to Life, the civil society organisations say, also have been challenged by the failure to provide adequate reparations to people impacted by French nuclear tests, and opposition to initiatives and processes for multilateral nuclear disarmament.

Aotearoa Lawyers for Peace, Basel Peace Office, Initiatives pour le Désarmement Nucléaire, World Future Council and Youth Fusion have submitted Submission to the UN Human Rights Committee.

Submissions from the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and from the Canadian Pugwash Group & Rideau Institute recommend that “Canada should proceed on a national basis to disavow the policy of nuclear deterrence and cease any activity, within NATO or elsewhere, in support of that policy and the nuclear forces associated with it“.

A more detailed submission from Aotearoa Lawyers for Peace, Basel Peace Office, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, Religions for Peace Canada, World Federalist Movement Canada, World Future Council and Youth Fusion, recommends that Canada welcome the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and participate in the First Conference of States Parties as an observer country. That conference is scheduled to take place January 12 -14, 2022 in Vienna.

Canada is further asked to announce support for the adoption of no-first-use policies by all nuclear-armed states and propose to the next NATO Summit adoption of a policy of No-First-Use of nuclear weapons and a goal for NATO to eliminate nuclear deterrence from its security policy within 10 years.

The civil society organisations also reaffirm the Reagan-Gorbachev dictum that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought’ and propose that the States Parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) also adopt this dictum along with supportive policy measures, such as No-First-Use and a commitment to achieve the global prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons no later than 2045, the 75th anniversary of the NPT and the 100th anniversary of the United Nations. [IDN-InDepthNews – 07 June 2021]

Photo: UN Human Rights Committee session. Credit: Jaurocks