Breakthrough for nuclear weapons ban

The representative body Quakers in Britain is urging the government not to boycott the Treaty.

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has been ratified by the fiftieth state, meaning that it will enter into international legal force ninety days later, on 22 January 2021.

Honduras was the fiftieth state to sign the treaty in a historic global step which it is hoped will help to rid the world of weapons of mass death and destruction.

So far, the UK government is refusing to engage with the Treaty. The representative body Quakers in Britain is urging the government not to boycott the Treaty.

Paul Parker, recording clerk for Britain Yearly Meeting, said: ‘Love for our neighbour is the very heart of the Christian way of life. How can we love someone, and yet have a nuclear weapon, a horrific instrument of death, primed and ready for launch, pointed towards them at the same time?

‘We have to find a better way. Nuclear weapons make us no safer. This treaty is a start, and Quakers urge the UK government to sign it, and to dismantle our nuclear arsenal.’

The nine nuclear-armed nations (US, Russia, China, UK, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea), which have so far boycotted the treaty, will be in violation of international law from 22 January 2021.

ICAN UK, the UK branch of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, pointed out that the treaty comprehensively prohibits participation in any nuclear weapon activities: ‘It bans the production, development, stationing, and testing of nuclear weapons, as well as use and threat of use; forbids assistance for all prohibited activities; and requires the provision of assistance to victims and remediation of polluted land from nuclear weapon use and testing.’

In an article on its website, the Northern Friends Peace Board called the news a ‘breakthrough’ and said: ‘We will need to maintain pressure on nuclear weapons states to act responsibly and make nuclear disarmament a political reality.’

The passing of the TPNW into law is a result of decades of work by the peace movement, faith groups including Quakers, other parts of progressive civil society and forward-thinking diplomats and policy-makers. Quakers in Britain joined more than 440 non-governmental organisations in supporting the treaty, including the World Council of Churches.

Rebecca Johnson, a former Greenham peace activist and first president of the Geneva-based ICAN, awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Laureate, said the treaty is ‘the culmination of seventy-five years of humanitarian activism, from the “Hibakusha” and indigenous survivors of nuclear weapons and testing, to the Aldermaston marchers and Greenham Common Peace Women who helped to ban nuclear testing and get cruise missiles banned and off the roads. Together we’ve persuaded UN governments to bring this ground-breaking nuclear disarmament treaty into international humanitarian law. Our task now is to bring all the nuclear armed and dependent countries into working with the non-nuclear majority to eliminate existing arsenals and universalise, implement and verify the Nuclear Ban Treaty.’

TPNW is binding on the states that ratify and join it, and even the countries that are not party to the treaty will be affected by it coming into force. BYM said it provides a strong new legal and normative framework that will help to stigmatise nuclear weapons and change concrete policies and behaviours.

It is thought likely that other countries will now join the ban, now the treaty is law. In Britain, a YouGov public opinion poll in 2017 found that seventy-five per cent of people believed that the UK government should participate in the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty negotiations, with just nine per cent opposed to participating and sixteen per cent undecided.

The fiftieth ratification came on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations. Addressing the nuclear threa was the UN’s first order of business.

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