Yesterday the Simons Foundation and the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) released a historic document - the Vancouver Declaration.
The Vancouver Declaration affirms that nuclear weapons are incompatible with international humanitarian law, the law stating what is universally prohibited in warfare. The declaration observes that with their uncontrollable blast, heat, and radiation effects, nuclear weapons are indeed weapons of mass destruction that by their nature cannot comply with fundamental rules forbidding the infliction of indiscriminate and disproportionate harm.
Entitled “Law’s Imperative for the Urgent Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World,” the declaration concludes by calling on states to commence and conclude negotiations on the global prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons as mandated by the legal obligation unanimously proclaimed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1996. An annex to the declaration specifying the applicable law states: “It cannot be lawful to continue indefinitely to possess weapons which are unlawful to use or threaten to use, are already banned for most states, and are subject to an obligation of elimination.”
Eminent experts in international law and diplomacy have endorsed the Vancouver Declaration; among them Christopher G. Weeramantry, former Vice President of the ICJ and current President of IALANA; Mohammed Bedjaoui, who was ICJ President when it handed down its advisory opinion on nuclear weapons; Louise Doswald-Beck, Professor of International Law, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, and co-author of a major International Committee of the Red Cross study of international humanitarian law; Ved Nanda, Evans University Professor, Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law, University of Denver Sturm College of Law; Jayantha Dhanapala, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs; and Gareth Evans, QC, former Foreign Minister of Australia who recently served as Co-Chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.
The Simons Foundation and IALANA developed the declaration with the input of a conference convened by the two organizations in Vancouver, Canada, on February 10-11, 2011, that brought together some 30 experts in international law, diplomacy, and nuclear weapons.
Dr. Jennifer Simons, President of The Simons Foundation, said: “It is my hope, shared by IALANA, that in the debate about the road to zero, the Vancouver Declaration will serve to underline the essential element - the inhumanity and illegality of nuclear weapons - and hasten their elimination. The possession of nuclear weapons should be an international crime.”
Peter Weiss, IALANA Vice President, who has litigated international human rights cases in U.S. and other courts and advised governments on their submissions to the ICJ in the nuclear weapons case, commented: “Overwhelming problems, like ensuring the survival of the planet, cannot be resolved by law alone. But nor can they be dealt with by ignoring the law altogether. The drafters of the declaration, and those who have signed and will sign it, offer it to governments and civil society as a contribution to the debate. The horrific events occurring in Japan serve to accentuate the danger of continuing to live with the risk of exposing humanity to nuclear radiation, whether emanating from nuclear meltdown or nuclear bombs.”
Dr. John Burroughs, Executive Director of the New York-based Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, the UN Office of IALANA, said: “President Obama and Prime Minister Singh last year jointly stated their support for ‘strengthening the six decade-old international norm of non-use of nuclear weapons.’ The Vancouver Declaration demonstrates that the non-use of nuclear weapons is not only wise policy; it is required by law.”
The Vancouver Declaration is a most important document coming at a time when nations, in particular the United States, flaunt international law on many fronts. As this relates to nuclear weapons, it is critical that all nations take their responsibilities as not only sovereign nations states, but as nations sharing this small planet where no one is immune from the horrific effects of nuclear weapons.
The clock is ticking, and it is high time for nations to seriously negotiate a treaty for the total prohibition of nuclear weapons. The President of the International Court of Justice called nuclear weapons "an absolute evil," and as the Vancouver Declaration says, "an absolute evil requires an absolute prohibition." Can there be any greater and absolute evil than nuclear weapons???
Click here to read the full text of the Vancouver Declaration. Click here to see the signatories to the declaration.
Author's Note: Text in italics are quoted from the news release. Click here to read the full March 23, 2011 news release.
Visit the Simons Foundation at http://www.thesimonsfoundation.ca. Visit the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms at http://www.ialana.net and http://www.lcnp.org