States have started serious work on addressing nuclear harm – but there is much more to be done
By Elizabeth Minor
The second Meeting of States Parties (2MSP) of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons ended with its states parties adopting a declaration and set of decisions underscoring their commitment to the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons due to their catastrophic humanitarian consequences and grave risks – facts that provide the basis for the treaty, and on which new evidence continues to be produced.
In an unprecedented move, which represents a continuation of the role of the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons and the TPNW in changing the international discourse on nuclear weapons towards stigmatisation, prohibition, and elimination, states parties decided at 2MSP to work together in the coming period to “challenge the security paradigm based on nuclear deterrence by highlighting and promoting new scientific evidence.”
As well as its prohibitions, the TPNW responds to the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons through its obligations on victim assistance, environmental remediation and international cooperation, in articles 6 and 7. These deal with addressing ongoing harm to people and places from the use and testing of nuclear weapons.
The TPNW’s states parties have shown commitment to this area of the treaty since its entry into force, particularly through work to develop structures for implementation and to spread the values of the TPNW, through raising the need to address nuclear legacies in different forums. This latter work included the tabling by Kazakhstan and Kiribati of a resolution on ‘Addressing the legacy of nuclear weapons‘ at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly this year, which an overwhelming majority of countries voted for. This included many states that are not party to the TPNW and are nuclear-endorsing – providing a humanitarian engagement point towards universalisation of the treaty and its values.
At this point, it can be said that states parties, in collaboration with civil society, have done serious work to lay strong foundations for the implementation of their obligations to address nuclear harm – particularly in the context of the TPNW being a young treaty of limited resources. It is significant that two states parties affected by nuclear testing, Kazakhstan and Kiribati, have taken the lead on the TPNW’s work this area – indicating that they wish to use this part of the treaty as an opportunity to mobilise attention and resources, rather than seeing it as a burden.
Nevertheless, from this starting point, which many have worked hard on so far to achieve, there is still much to be done by both states and the broader community towards making a practical impact with and for affected communities.
Laying the foundations in the TPNW
At the first Meeting of States Parties in Vienna last year, states agreed an inclusive framework and first steps for implementing articles 6 and 7, in the Vienna Action Plan. This includes commitments to engage with a wide range of stakeholder groups including civil society and Indigenous Peoples, and to closely consult with and actively involve affected communities at all stages of implementation. Such a framework is unprecedented in an international nuclear weapons treaty, and represents a significant achievement by states parties and the civil society involved in developing it, including affected communities.
At the 2MSP, states’ continued commitment to this area of the treaty could be seen in both their reaffirmations of support for work to address nuclear harm, and the progress they brought on the implementation of the Vienna Action Plan actions on articles 6 and 7.
There was a strong acknowledgement of the importance of this area of the treaty amongst states at the 2MSP, with dozens highlighting the ongoing impacts of nuclear weapons use and the need to address these. There was a reaffirmation of states’ commitments to work on addressing nuclear harm in the 2MSP’s Declaration. In their statements, states also noted the need to work inclusively with affected communities, and welcomed the contribution of civil society in this area.
The 2MSP also adopted two decisions based on the report presented by Kazakhstan and Kiribati, co-chairs of the intersessional working group on articles 6 and 7, which outlines the results of the meetings they held with states parties and civil society since Vienna to push forward work on this theme according to the requirements of the action plan. These decisions were to provisionally adopt tools for voluntary reporting by states parties on their implementation activities (the guidelines and reporting format contained in the co-chairs’ report), and to continue discussions on the possibility of establishing a voluntary international trust fund on victim assistance and environmental remediation (to which the working group devoted several meetings this year). The 2MSP decisions, respectively, further strengthen the implementation architecture for articles 6 and 7, and show a strong commitment to developing structures for mobilising resources for affected states and communities.
Affected states parties committed in the Vienna Action Plan to share ‘initial assessments’ of their national situations, and their progress on national plans to implement article 6, to the 2MSP – and it was a positive development to see the work brought by these states parties to New York:
Kazakhstan submitted a detailed national assessment report to the 2MSP on the impacts and responses to nuclear testing in that country, based on input from various national institutions. New Zealand also submitted a report in relation to its veterans affected by nuclear use and testing, using the voluntary reporting template adopted at 2MSP. Fiji committed to use the voluntary reporting guidelines as “a basis for our ongoing close collaboration with the Civil Society Organisation and Veterans Association” on their assessment and reporting to future Meetings of States Parties: in the runup to 2MSP, Fiji’s veterans associations collaborated to develop recommendations on the response they wish to see in implementation, which was submitted as an NGO working paper to the conference. Finally, though Kiribati did not submit information to 2MSP, it is understood that some consultative work was done nationally on articles 6 and 7.
States’ commitment to addressing nuclear harm was also seen at 2MSP with states both party and not party highlighting their intention to look into how they could work with affected communities and states on this matter. This is significant in the context of the TPNW being in its early stages and operating with low resources.
Finally, both the 2MSP and the intersessional meetings on articles 6 and 7 saw strong participation and input from civil society, including individuals and organisations representing or involving affected communities. Though more can be done by both states and civil society to improve inclusivity, a positive aspect of the intersessional meetings in this area were the efforts the co-chairs of the articles 6 and 7 working group made to invite presentations from affected communities and to hold extra meetings to gather their views.
States and civil society working to push forward implementation in this area of the TPNW would recognise that the work done so far is just the start.
The goals of implementing articles 6 and 7 should be to practically and measurably improve responses in victim assistance and environmental remediation, through mobilising international attention and resources, and developing and implementing better approaches. These approaches should be developed according to the priorities of affected communities, and article 6’s rights-based framework.
Towards this, states parties must undertake focused, inclusive discussions to develop their approaches to implementation, including on age- and gender-sensitivity and non-discrimination. They must be ambitious in pushing forward their national implementation work and bring progress to 3MSP. And, they must make space to develop inclusive ways of working, particularly when it comes to involving affected communities and Indigenous Peoples.
In the next intersessional period, states parties are likely to dedicate considerable time to discussing the possibility of creating an international trust fund. In undertaking this work, they must focus on the need to establish a fund that is resourced and so can make a meaningful difference, as well as being a structure that can promote progressive and community-centred approaches to victim assistance and environmental remediation.
With implementation of this area of the treaty still in its early stages, states parties and the wider community focused on addressing nuclear legacies have an opportunity to take forward this work and make meaningful change.
Progress and next steps towards addressing nuclear harm through the TPNW: This briefing paper aimed at states reviews recent progress on articles 6 and 7, and suggests some initial next steps for states towards making meaningful progress.
Featured image: The second Meeting of States Parties of the TPNW in the Trusteeship Council at the UN in New York. Photo: ICAN | Darren Ornitz https://flic.kr/p/2pkjY7x