On 22 January 2021 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force: always immoral, nuclear weapons are now illegal. The countries that have joined the Treaty must now observe its prohibitions and obligations. Its normative and practical impact – including on states outside it, and others such as companies producing and investing in nuclear weapons – will continue to grow.

Positive obligations

The TPNW was negotiated as a response to the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons. Its positive obligations, articles 6 and 7, require the consequences of the past use and testing of nuclear weapons for people, communities and the environment to be addressed, and for the international community of states in the TPNW to assist affected countries in doing this.

Developing a way forward for implementing these obligations will be a key task for parties to the TPNW, including at the first meeting of states parties, which will now be held within a year.

New articles on addressing the consequences

As a starting point for assisting with this through compiling key information and research, and timed for the entry into force of the TPNW, Dr Matthew Bolton of Pace University and Article 36’s Elizabeth Minor have co-edited a special section of articles for the academic journal Global Policy on “Addressing the Humanitarian and Environmental Consequences of Nuclear Weapons.” This was released for the 22 January online, and will be published in the journal’s February issue.

Aimed at providing some baseline information and key questions and opportunities for consideration in implementing the positive obligations of the TPNW, the articles in the section: give a global overview of past nuclear detonations and their consequences; outlines policy interventions in different countries to assist victims and remediate environments so far; and considers the opportunity the TPNW and its obligations present for making progress to address the continuing consequences of past nuclear weapons use and testing.

The series of articles (which will be available open access for the next two weeks) are:

Article 36 will be working on this key area of implementation of the TPNW as the first meeting of states parties approaches, to support a strong plan of action in this area amongst the global community that supports the Treaty.

Featured image: ‘Nuclear weapons now illegal’ projected onto UN Headquarters in New York, 22 January 2021 Photo: ICAN/Seth Shelden