United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination
By resolution 71/258, the General Assembly decided to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination. The Assembly encouraged all Member States to participate in the Conference and decided that it shall convene in New York, under the rules of procedure of the General Assembly unless otherwise agreed by the Conference, with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society representatives. The Conference will be held in New York from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July. The Conference held a one-day organizational session in New York,on 16 February 2017.
The decision to convene the Conference followed from the recommendation of the open-ended working group on taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations, convened pursuant to resolution 70/33. The open-ended working group, chaired by Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi (Thailand), specified in its report that a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons would establish general prohibitions and obligations as well as a political commitment to achieve and maintain a nuclear-weapon-free world. The primary mandate of the open-ended working group was to address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms that would need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.
A/RES/71/258 - Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 23 December 2016
A/71/371 - Report of the open-ended working group on taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations
The initiative to seek a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons is an outcome of the recent discourse centred on promoting greater awareness and understanding of the humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons. Concerns regarding the humanitarian and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons had long underpinned nuclear disarmament initiatives, leading to early agreements such as the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, which banned nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water. Two years earlier, the General Assembly had adopted resolution 1653 (XVI) which included a declaration on the prohibition of the use of nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons.
In recent years, renewed interest in the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons was first manifested in the final document (NPT/CONF.2010/50 (Vol. I)) of the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In its conclusions and recommendations for follow-on actions, the Conference expressed its deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and reaffirms the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.
At the 2012 session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 NPT Review Conference, a group of sixteen States delivered a joint statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament. In subsequent meetings of NPT States parties as well as at the annual sessions of the General Assembly First Committee, a growing number of States joined these joint statements with 159 States endorsing the statement delivered at the 2015 NPT Review Conference. A key element in these statements emphasized it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances. Starting at the 2013 session of the First Committee, another group of States issued a separate statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, stressing the importance of simultaneously addressing the security and humanitarian dimensions of nuclear weapons.
In 2012, expressing concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, the General Assembly adopted resolution 67/56 entitled “Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations”. By this resolution, the Assembly established in 2013 an open-ended working group to develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons. As reflected in its report (A/68/514), the open-ended working group, chaired by Ambassador Manuel B. Dengo (Costa Rica), discussed a number of approaches toward this end, including, inter alia: a step-by-step approach consisting of mutually reinforcing and progressive steps or building blocks; a comprehensive approach for a phased programme for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons with a specified framework of time, including a nuclear weapons convention; and a legally binding framework committing all States to a world without nuclear weapons backed by defined timelines and benchmarks.
A series of three international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, convened in 2013 and 2014 respectively in Norway, Mexico and Austria, sought to present a facts-based understanding of the short- and longer-term effects of a nuclear weapon detonation. These conferences, which included participation by a large majority of States, the International Committee of the Red Cross and hundreds of representatives of non-governmental organizations, principally coordinated by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, played an important role in building demand for urgent action to advance nuclear disarmament negotiations.
The key finding of the March 2013 conference in Oslo, Norway was that it is unlikely that any state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in an adequate manner and provide sufficient assistance to those affected. The Chair’s summary of the February 2014 in Nayarit, Mexico emphasized that the effects of a nuclear detonation would not be constrained by national borders and that it would lead to widespread suffering, lasting damage to civilian infrastructure and inter-generational harm to human health. The December 2014 conference held in Vienna, Austria concluded with the presentation of a humanitarian pledge “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons”. As of April 2016, a total of 127 States had formally endorsed or expressed support for the humanitarian pledge.
The 2015 NPT Review Conference discussed and sought to reach agreement on the next steps for the achievement of nuclear disarmament. Contentious issues in this regard included how to reflect the outcomes of the three conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, the status of the action plan on nuclear disarmament agreed in 2010 and the initiation of a process to elaborate effective legal measures for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons. The Review Conference was unable to reach consensus on a substantive final document, due in particular to disagreement over the way forward on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.
The 2015 session of the General Assembly First Committee subsequently carried forward a number of new resolutions emanating from the humanitarian movement, in addition to re-establishing the open-ended working group on taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations. These included resolution 70/47 entitled “Humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons”, resolution 70/48 entitled “Humanitarian pledge for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and resolution 70/50 entitled “Ethical imperatives for a nuclear-weapon-free world”.