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Nuclear Policies Violate Right to Life, Warn Civil Society Organisations

By Jaya Ramachandran

GENEVA (IDN) — While arms control and disarmament efforts have come to a halt, civil society organisations are insisting that nuclear policies contravene the right to life. “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life,” declares Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). [2022-05-21-05] FRENCH | ITALIAN | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF

Drawing on the right to life enshrined in this Convent, organisations promoting arms control and disarmament from the UK and the Netherlands have challenged the nuclear weapons policies of the two countries.

They declared in the UN Human Rights Council recently that those policies are in violation of the right to life. which concludes that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is incompatible with the right to life and may amount to a crime under international law.

The challenges have been made in reports submitted to the Human Rights Council by groups of organizations as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the obligations of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands under international human rights law including the ICCPR. (See submission on the Netherlands and the submission on the United Kingdom).

The submissions tabled on March 31 make several recommendations of policy actions the governments could take in order to conform to the right to life. These include adopting no-first-use policies, cancelling plans to renew nuclear weapons systems, taking measures to phase out the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines and advancing at the 2022 NPT Review Conference a goal for the global elimination of nuclear weapons by 2045, the 75th anniversary of the NPT.

The submissions also include sections which highlight the connections between nuclear weapons and climate change, and include recommendations to the UK on re-allocating nuclear weapons budgets to renewable energy development and climate action financing, and to the Netherlands to support the initiative to take the issue of climate change to the International Court of Justice.

In 2018 the UN Human Rights Committee affirmed that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is incompatible with the Right to Life, and that States parties to the ICCPR have obligations to refrain from developing, acquiring, stockpiling and using them, and also have obligations to destroy existing stockpiles and pursue negotiations in good faith to achieve global nuclear disarmament. The submissions argue that the nuclear weapons policies of the UK and Netherlands are in violation of these obligations.

The submissions come at a time when Russia has threatened a nuclear war over the Ukraine conflict. These are a reminder of the vital importance to address the risks of nuclear deterrence policies. Besides, together with China, France, United Kingdom, and the United States, Russia is one of the five nuclear-weapon states (NWS).The five maintain options to initiate a nuclear war. They are officially recognised by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as possessing nuclear weapons.

The four countries that are not listed in the NWS as nuclear-weapon states—Pakistan (165), India (156), Israel (90) and North Korea (40-50) possess—and the NWS together possess an estimated total of about 13,000 nuclear weapons. Most of these are many times more annihilating than the nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima. Thirty-one other states are also part of the problem.

In addition, 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 the fact is that their positioning in these countries helps U.S. nuclear war planning.

Beside the five hosts, twenty-six countries 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 U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) headed by Russia.

Explaining a crucial reason behind the submissions, Alyn Ware, Co-founder of UNFOLD ZERO and Director of the Basel Peace Office, one of the submitting organizations said: “In times of high tensions involving nuclear-armed and/or allied states, plans and preparations for the use of nuclear weapons elevate the risk of nuclear war which would be a humanitarian catastrophe, severely impacting rights of current and future generations.”

Mr Ware added: “Compliance with the Right to Life with respect to nuclear weapons is therefore an urgent matter, impacting the rights of all humanity.”

The importance of nuclear weapons of the United Kingdom lies in the fact that UK deploys about 160 nuclear warheads (40 on each of their 4 strategic nuclear submarines) which are ready to be fired at any time under policy options to potentially use the nuclear weapons in a wide range of circumstances, including in response to threats from chemical and biological capabilities or emerging technologies that could have a comparable impact.

The Netherlands hosts approximately 20 United States B61 nuclear bombs at its Volkel airbase and maintains operational measures to ‘deliver’ these by the Dutch Airforce F-16 planes to potential targets for use in wartime.

If the UN Human Rights Council decides to pick up on the challenges and recommendations in the submissions and direct these to the UK and the Netherlands, the two countries are required to respond.

Similar submissions were made in 2020 and 2021 to the Human Rights Council and other UN human rights bodies with regard to the nuclear policies of Russia, the USA, France, Canada, Denmark, Iceland and North Korea, (see Nuclear weapons and the UN human rights bodies), but the issues were not taken up in earnest by the relevant bodies. Knowledgeable circles hope that the increased threat of nuclear war arising from the Ukraine conflict might stimulate the Human Rights Council to make this a much higher priority for the current review cycle.

The UK submissions have been tabled by: Abolition 2000 UK, Aotearoa Lawyers for Peace, Association of Swiss Lawyers for Nuclear Disarmament, Basel Peace Office, Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, Christian CND, CND Cymru (Wales), International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, International Forum for Understanding, Legacy of the Atomic Bomb/Recognition for Atomic Test Survivors (LABRATS), Nuclear Free Local Authorities, Pax Christi Scotland, Scientists for Global Responsibility, Sheffield Creative Action for Peace, Uniting for Peace, Westminster West Rotary Club Peace Committee, Youth Fusion, World Future Council and 80,000 Voices.

The Netherlands submissions come from Aotearoa Lawyers for Peace, Association of Swiss Lawyers for Nuclear Disarmament, Basel Peace Office, Council of Churches in the Netherlands, International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, Pugwash Netherlands, Tribunal for Peace, World Future Council, World’s Youth for Climate Justice and Youth Fusion. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 May 2022]

Image source: UK Ministry of Defence