By J Nastranis
NEW YORK | COLOMBO (IDN) – Sri Lanka has refrained from signing the landmark UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that was adopted by 122 countries on July 7, 2017 and opened for signature on September 20 at the UN headquarters in New York.
The decision not to sign the Treaty has triggered questions and concern at home and abroad. “Sri Lanka voted for the resolution adopting this very same Treaty [. . .], when we had a different Foreign Minister and Foreign Secretary. Has there now been a change of policy after a new minister assumed office?,” wonders the Friday Forum, a think tank based in Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka.
A long-term observer of Sri Lanka’s track record at the UN said: “The irony of ironies is that the Sri Lankan President who was wrongly advised not to sign the nuke treaty is apparently a candidate for the Nobel Peace prize!”
In a statement on behalf of the think-tank, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare and Professor Camena Guneratne have urged the Sri Lankan government “to review its position and sign the Treaty without further delay,” adding: “This is an issue of concern for all the people, on which there can be no compromise.
The island country southeast of India (the latter one of the nine nuclear-weapons states along with Britain, France, the United States, Russia, China, North Korea, Pakistan and Israel) voted for the UN General Assembly resolution adopting the Treaty. Four South Asian countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal – also voted for the UN General Assembly resolution.
The statement points out that Sri Lanka has a proud record of unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons, and has long championed multilateralism in the fields of arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation.
It has been among the first States to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993 and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in 1972.
“Over the last few decades Sri Lanka has worked to prevent future weapons threats, notably an arms race in outer space, and has been a steadfast supporter of the work of the United Nations in disarmament. It has also joined, and often led, efforts in the Non-Aligned Movement to advance disarmament,” the statement adds.
In addition, the think-tank recalls, Sri Lankans have served as UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, as Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, on the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, and as an eloquent voice for nuclear disarmament in the International Court of Justice.
One of those Sri Lankans is Jayantha Dhanapala, who served as UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs (1998-2003) and as Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the USA (1995-1997) and to the UN Office in Geneva (1984-1987). He chaired many international conferences including the historic NPT Review and Extension Conference of 1995. Besides, he chaired the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs for ten years until August 2017. (Click here for his articles published by IDN.)
The other Sri Lankan mentioned in the Friday Forum‘s statement is the late Christopher Weeramantry (17 November 1926 – 5 January 2017) who was a Judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague from 1991 to 2000. He served as its Vice-President from 1997 to 2000. He was also Honorary Councillor of the World Future Council, and President of the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).
Judge Weeramantry issued a historic dissenting opinion when the ICJ handed down in July 1996 its advisory opinion on the request made by the UN General Assembly on the question concerning the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons. He wrote: “My considered opinion is that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is illegal in any circumstances whatsoever.”
The Friday Forum stresses: Sri Lanka’s principled stance in voting for the resolution adopting Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was “a logical continuation of its stand against all weapons of mass destruction, and was a source of pride for all of us.” It adds: “The failure to sign the Treaty at this point of time is a serious setback for our country’s international image and its contribution to disarmament and world peace.”
The think-tank argues: The Treaty is fully consistent with Sri Lanka’s existing obligations under both the NPT and the CTBT. “This new treaty goes farther in de-legitimizing the very possession of such weapons, which will be essential if we are to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons and ensure peace and security for present and future generations.”
The significance of the UN Treaty also lies in the fact, the think-tank says, that it emphasizes in particular the applicability of international humanitarian law and the laws of war in governing both the use and existence of nuclear weapons – it seeks to establish a universal norm that is non-discriminatory, it is a light illuminating the way to achieve global nuclear disarmament.
Looked at from a historical perspective, there have been no multilateral disarmament negotiations for over two decades, and there have never been any nuclear disarmament negotiations since the NPT was signed in 1968, despite the commitment of its parties to negotiations in good faith on nuclear disarmament.
The Friday Forum’s statement continues: “While the current Treaty is not itself a disarmament treaty since it does not require the elimination of weapons, it nevertheless helps to set the stage for one to come. Sri Lanka should join with other committed nations in leading the way toward a more comprehensive nuclear weapons convention, as well as new progress in achieving the agreed goals of general and complete disarmament.”
Warning against the danger of investments in nuclear weapons, the think-tank stresses: Investments in nuclear weapons jeopardize human civilization – not only through their use, but also through the outrageous expenses incurred in manufacturing and modernizing them.
“These investments drain resources away from meeting sustainable development goals and reducing poverty and deprivation throughout the world, including in our own country. Nuclear weapons are inherently immoral, both in their manufacture and their potential use. It is inconceivable that Sri Lanka should take a position that indicates otherwise.”
The Friday Forum strongly believes that Sri Lanka should continue to show solidarity with its friends in the Non-Aligned Movement who support the Treaty, including countries in the South Asian region, and support the future negotiation of a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention.
There is no possibility that any use of any nuclear weapon, anywhere, would serve either the ideals or self-interests of Sri Lanka or any other nation, the think stresses.
Other members of the think-tank are: Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Dr. A. C Visvalingam, Ms. Suriya Wickremasinghe, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, Mr. S.C.C. Elankovan, Dr. Geedreck Usvatte-Aratchi, Prof. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Mr. Javid Yusuf, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Prof. Gananath Obeyesekere, Mr. Ananda Galappatti, Bishop Duleep de Chickera and Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 September 2017]
Photo: UNGA adopted the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons, on 7July 2017. Credit. UNODA
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