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Published on August 22nd, 2016 | by Susi Snyder

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In the room- voting towards a ban

I just got back from quite an exciting time in Geneva. This UN working group set up to take forward multilateral negotiations on nuclear weapons actually voted to do that. I’ve been around UN meetings about nuclear weapons (with long, complicated names) for years, and this one felt like a significant moment in history.

First- there is overwhelming majority support for the UN General Assembly to convene a conference in 2017 to negotiate a new legally binding prohibition on nuclear weapons leading to their elimination.

Overwhelming, as in 107 states used that exact language in statements last Tuesday (see my report on it here: http://nonukes.nl/overwhelming-majority/)

The final draft of the report was negotiated mostly behind closed doors (in a smaller group, in a small room) on Wednesday, Thursday and much of Friday.  Eventually, agreement on a text was reached (according to those inside). The Working Group met again in plenary, to adopt the final (or so everyone thought), at 1600 Friday afternoon.

Then Australia raised their flag.  On behalf of 14 countries in total (Australia Poland Bulgaria Albania Hungary Italy Belgium Slovenia Romania Latvia Estonia Turkey Lithuania and Republic of Korea/ south Korea) and said they couldn’t agree with the recommendation reading:

  1. The Working Group recognized that there was a recommendation which received widespread support[1] for the General Assembly to convene a conference in 2017, open to all States, with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society, to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination, as outlined in paragraph 34. The Working Group also recognized that other States[2] did not agree with the above recommendation and that they recommended that any process to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations must address national, international and collective security concerns and supported the pursuit of practical steps consisting of parallel and simultaneous effective legal and non-legal measures to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, as outlined in paragraphs 40 and 41 for which there was no agreement. The Working Group further recognized the views expressed on other approaches.

Then the chairman called for adoption of the report.  Australia again put up their flag. They said they wanted a vote. heads twisted, delegations spun around, quizzical looks on their faces.  A vote?  But the last two days Australia had even been in the room negotiating in good faith to get this language. Australia had privately indicated they didn’t like it, but could live with it, and a vote?? they called for a vote?

Guatemala took the floor, and said, if they were going to vote anyway, they had a proposed amendment to the text.  Mexico interrupted them, to clarify, did Australia really just ask for a vote?

The Australian ambassador said simply, yes.

Guatemala continued, Cuba supported new language, South Africa suggested a short recess for the secretariat to get itself together to actually hold a vote. The meeting suspended.

At 1800 Friday night it reconvened, in a smaller room. It was already after business hours, so there was no translation available. The meeting progressed in English.

The chair explained that voting would take place in accordance with UN General Assembly rules of procedure. A majority vote of those present would decide. Those who abstain would not be counted as either yes or no.

Guatemala put forward its suggestion for a new paragraph 67, to read:

  1. The Working Group recommended with widespread support[3] for the General Assembly to convene a conference in 2017, open to all States, with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society, to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination, as outlined in paragraph 34. The Working Group recognized that other States[4] did not agree with the above recommendation and that they recommended that any process to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations must address national, international and collective security concerns and supported the pursuit of practical steps consisting of parallel and simultaneous effective legal and non-legal measures to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, as outlined in paragraphs 40 and 41 for which there was no agreement. The Working Group further recognized the views expressed on other approaches.

The chair called for a vote on the text as orally amended.

The amendment won with a vote of 62 in favour, 27 opposed, and 8 abstaining.

The Dutch were part of the group of 27 (primarily NATO and/or nuclear umbrella countries) that voted no.

Then the Chair called for a vote on the report as a whole, as orally amended.

The report was passed with a vote of 68 in favour, 22 against, 13 abstaining.

The Dutch were part of the group that abstained.

In a joint statement with Norway (I’m trying to get a copy and will share it when I do), the Dutch said there are “Disagreements on timing, sequencing and modalities. Despite that, we will continue to work in the context of art 6 of the NPT towards making further progress towards nuclear disarmament to create conditions that will allow for negotiations for credible and effective prohibition on nuclear weapons.”.

There were a series of other closing statements, and the room burst into huge applause when Mexico thanked the Chair for his work.  It was an historic moment.  The momentum for negotiations in 2017 on a nuclear ban treaty is unstoppable. The majority have spoken, history is being written, a ban is on the way.

 

 

 


Notes:

[1] States supporting this recommendation comprise, inter alia, members of the African Group (54 States), the Association of South East Asian Nations (10 States) and the Community of the Latin America and the Caribbean (33 States), as well as a number of States from Asia and the Pacific and Europe.

[2] States supporting this recommendation comprise, inter alia, the 24 States advocating the progressive approach.

[3] States supporting this recommendation comprise, inter alia, members of the African Group (54 States), the Association of South East Asian Nations (10 States) and the Community of the Latin America and the Caribbean (33 States), as well as a number of States from Asia and the Pacific and Europe.

[4] States supporting this recommendation comprise, inter alia, the 24 States advocating the progressive approach.

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About the Author

Susi Snyder is the Nuclear Disarmament Programme Manager for Pax in the Netherlands. Mrs. Snyder has coordinated the research, publication and campaigning activities surrounding the annually updated Don’t Bank on the Bomb report since 2013. She has published numerous reports and articles, including Dealing with a ban (2015); The Rotterdam Blast: The immediate humanitarian consequences of a 12 kiloton nuclear explosion (2014); and Withdrawal Issues: What NATO countries say about the future of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe (2011). She is an International Steering Group member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and a 2016 Nuclear Free Future Award Laureate. Previously, Mrs. Snyder served as the Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom at their Geneva secretariat.



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