On 26–27 May 2014, ILPI’s Nuclear Weapons Project organized its 6th regional roundtable meeting on nuclear weapons in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting was organized in collaboration with Zambian Health Workers for Social Responsibility (the Zambian branch of IPPNW) and closely coordinated with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The purpose of the roundtable was to discuss issues related to Africa’s role in the humanitarian initiative, and the prospects for a ban on nuclear weapons.
The venue for the roundtable, Chaminuka Lodge, is a countryside resort and game reserve, located about 20 kilometres from Lusaka Airport. Of the 23 individuals participating in the roundtable, approximately half were government officials (from Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), and the rest from civil society and academia (including three participants from Red Cross / ICRC).
Summary of discussions
The topic of the first session was the status of the humanitarian initiative and efforts towards a ban on nuclear weapons. The history of the humanitarian initiative and other disarmament processes was briefly discussed, as was the main reasoning behind the initiative and the justifications for a ban. This discussion spilled over into the question of how the initiative should progress, and what the participants expected for the conference in Vienna in December. It was noted that the humanitarian approach was evolving in a positive direction, and that Africa could be a driving force in this process. It was underlined that there is a need to engage the African civil society further, including women’s organizations, and for better cooperation between African civil society actors and African governments.
The second session addressed the experience and potential of Africa as a driving force for humanitarian disarmament. Several participants pointed to the positive experience with regards to the Anti-Personnel Mine-Ban Convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Yet, the participants were reminded that it has not always been easy to agree on an African position. In regard to the nuclear disarmament, it was argued that the time had come for African states to start cooperating more closely. Several arenas for further African coordination were suggested, including sub-regional groups (e.g. ECOWAS and SADC) and the AU. It was suggested that African States might consider developing a joint position and joint statements given the relevance of this issue for Africa. This could be done by Africa as a whole, or by a smaller group of African states. A joint statement or common position should focus on the aspects of nuclear weapons that have particular relevance for African states, such as diversion of resources, effects on agriculture and health, and the lack of resources to develop response capacity. It was noted that while it would be near impossible to build any response capacity with regards to nuclear weapons, it would still be important to make contingency plans for any accidents involving nuclear energy. Links were also drawn between the struggle against colonialism, the struggle against Apartheid, and the struggle against nuclear weapons. The fundamental driving force for all of them was freedom.
The third session was devoted to discussion of the Vienna conference scheduled for on 8–9 December 2014. The status of the planning for the meeting was presented, but since little has been made official regarding the programme or expected outcome, the discussion quickly shifted towards what might come after. As a basis for this, a working paper presented by the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) during the NPT in early May was discussed. The working paper included four alternative legal frameworks that were deemed by the NAC to constitute ‘effective measures’ towards the implementation of Article VI of the NPT (disarmament obligation). While there seemed to be broad agreement on the need for a new legal instrument, few of the participants had formed strong opinions about whether they preferred a comprehensive convention, a simple ban treaty, a framework agreement, or a hybrid (the four options in the working paper). A distinction was also introduced between achieving and maintaining a world free of nuclear weapons, and it was suggested that a simple ban treaty might fall short on the latter. It was further underlined that the working paper called for discussions among states on these alternatives, though this was not expected to be on the agenda in Vienna, and most likely not at the UNGA in October 2014 either. It was pointed out, however, that African states were free to raise the issue in either forum, regardless of what the official agenda was.
Some discussion also took place on the issue of whether a legal framework should be negotiated within or outside of the UN. This exchange was inconclusive, but it was underlined that the forum itself might be less relevant than the principles by which the negotiations would take place. These principles included words like ‘openness’ and ‘inclusiveness’, and the Conference on Disarmament (CD) was mentioned as an example of a forum that lacked both. Only 12 of the 54 states in Africa were members of the CD.
In the fourth and final session, the participants took the question of coordination between African states further, exploring the road ahead. The participants noted that the Pelindaba Treaty should be taken as a point of departure for further discussion between African states. It was suggested that for the Vienna Conference, it could be useful to have a joint statement by all or some African states, though African states should also be encouraged to make national statements. It was mentioned, as well, that there might be potential to create even larger joint statements by cooperating with countries from other regions, such as Latin America. A joint statement by a group of African states in Vienna in December could also serve as a first step in the move towards a more consolidated African approach to the humanitarian initiative. It was suggested that this could be convenient to develop further in the run-up to the NPT Review Conference in May 2015.
Relevant ILPI publications
Humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons
Summarising the presentations made at the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, this report presents some of the consequences that can be expected from any use of nuclear weapons, and explains in brief terms why the international community would struggle to provide adequate, timely and appropriate assistance to those affected by any such disaster.
Humanitarian initiative at a glance
A global discussion about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons has intensified in recent years. This brief overview presents excerpts from key documents and statements in this discussion, and combines this with information drawn from the statistical report Counting to Zero about the role that different States have played in support of this initiative.
An introduction to the issue of nuclear weapons in Africa
This article provides an overview of the issue of nuclear weapons in Africa, with particular emphasis on the process that led to the establishment of an African nuclear-weapon-free zone. The role of African states in international disarmament processes is discussed. So are relevant bodies and groupings with a bearing on disarmament policies that African states participate in. A selection of African states’ experiences and positions with regards to nuclear weapons are also explored. The article ends with an outline of possible future prospects of African states’ engagement for a world free of nuclear weapons.
Relevant legal documents
The treaty of Pelindaba
The African Nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty or the treaty of Pelindaba was opened for signature on 11 April 1996. The treaty came into force on 15 July 2009 and has been ratified by 30 of 51 signatory states.