The importance of humanitarian disarmament

Over the course of the next two days, about 200 people are gathered in Berlin for the Berlin Sessions on Humanitarian Disarmament. Today I was honoured to deliver the opening keynote speech- and you can find it below.
Thank you.

Lets take a moment and remember the context of why we’re here. In Geneva, there are talks going on right now so that the international community can come to terms with the more than 100,000 lives lost in Syria.

To stop more lives from being lost.

There is a motivation to act, spurred by a shared desire to protect and respect humanity.

But I’m not here to talk about a specific case, I’m here to talk about the importance of humanitarian disarmament. And first, I’ll pose some thoughts as to what humanitarian disarmament actually is.

Some would say it is the gathering and galvanising of support for strong disarmament initiatives, driven by the humanitarian imperative, to strengthen international law and protect civilians.

The dictionary definition of a humanitarian is – One who is devoted to the promotion of human welfare and the advancement of social reforms.

There are, however, varying understandings of what the core principles of humanitarian action are. Thats why in 1994, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the ICRC, along with a number of humanitarian relief organisations developed a Code of Conduct that sought to establish some common standards.

This code of conduct reaffirms the relevance and applicability of International Humanitarian Law in the event of armed conflict.

It identifies the alleviation of human suffering as the prime motivation for humanitarian assistance, provided on the basis of need and not as an instrument of government or foreign policy. One cannot hold out humanitarian relief as an incentive to change behaviours or state policies. The right to receive humanitarian assistance, and to offer it, is a fundamental humanitarian principle which should be enjoyed by all citizens of all countries.

it also seeks to integrate development principles, and that includes accountability toward conflict victims and the integration of their opinions in the planning, implementation and evaluation process for operations.

This puts fundamental principles of human rights into practice, those who work on development issues are familiar with the long term consequences of conflict. They seek to build, and in some cases re-build necessary infrastructure, to promote self-sufficiency,

Humanitarianism embraces the principles of humanity, impartiality and independence.

The prime motivation of our response to disaster, whether caused by nature or by war and armed conflict, is to alleviate suffering. And to prevent this suffering, when and where possible.

Disarmament- the act of reducing, limiting or abolishing weapons contributes to this prevention.

Personally, the idea of humanitarian disarmament is what has driven me to campaign, to organise, to educate, and to learn.

I’ve had some amazing teachers over the years. I’d like to pay tribute to one of them right now, who recently passed away. Anthony Guarisco.

Anthony was in the US Military. He served in the Second World War, and the Korean war. Anthony was not a pacifist, he was not a peace-worker, he believed that sometimes military intervention was necessary and justifiable.

But that wasn’t what moved me.

Anthony was one of the three hundred thousand American troops who were directly involved in the US nuclear explosion program between 1945 and 1963. He was not one of the 40,000 ordered into Hiroshima and Nagasaki to try to do some cleanup and remediation. He was exposed to nuclear blasts at Bikini Atoll in 1946, as part of Operation Crossroads.

I met him in a lonely desert town and he shared some of his stories.

Anthony described his and his fellow vets experience he said:

We have seen the fire-storm and felt the incredible heat and wind. We remember the continuous and unbelievably high intensity of the loud thundering of 100 thunderstorms at one time. We cringe at the thought of the relentless percussion that engulfed and tightened around our bodies as if it would crush us to death.

Anthony went on from this personal experience to found an organisation called the Alliance of Atomic Veterans, who eventually won recognition of their suffering and some compensation from the US government.

Anthony inspired me to work to prevent any such suffering from ever happening again. Anthony helped inspire my urge for disarmament. And that his how disarmament fits into the picture.

Through disarmament, we aim to prevent harm.

Disarmament – the act of reducing, limiting, or abolishing weapons.

By advancing disarmament from a humanitarian perspective, we seek to prevent further civilian casualties, avoid socio-economic devastation, and protect and ensure the rights of victims.

Humanitarian Disarmament is a way to reorient ourselves to the big picture. To focus on the fact that weapons are designed to kill and maim, and remind ourselves that it doesn’t matter what weapon we work on, reducing harm is a common driving force.

The concept, if not the specific language of humanitarian disarmament is enshrined in the preamble of the UN Charter:

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.

Humanitarian Disarmament campaigners put the faces of people , their names, their needs and try to tell the stories of sorrow that we are still trying to save succeeding generations from. This takes place in many ways. In this room are those whose operations in affected countries protect civilians, support conflict recovery, and prevent and reduce armed violence.

What does humanitarian disarmament mean in practice?

Our monitoring and research provides credible, first-hand information on the use of various weapons and the harm they cause to civilian populations.

Look at the fact sheet that Handicap International put out just a few days ago. It details the consequences of explosive weapons among internally displaced persons in Syria.

Look at the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, it is the de facto monitoring regime for the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

These are humanitarian disarmament efforts and they build accountability. Our efforts provide facts and information not coloured by the political objectives of any state. That does not mean that we are not partners with governments. Our efforts to prevent harm are strengthened through these partnerships. But even in our most forthright advocacy campaigns we hold true to core principles and values, and those can be easily summarised- to prevent harm and alleviate suffering.

We are of course advocates as well. Advocates for the creation and implementation of strong national and international standards.

A lot of us in this room, we work on weapons.
Some are banned-
anti-personnel landmines
cluster munitions
biological weapons
chemical weapons

Some are yet to be built, like killer robots.

Some are on their way out- like nuclear weapons.

History has shown that the strongest and most significant disarmament achievements have been driven by humanitarian imperatives.

In todays interconnected and globalised world perhaps we are evolving to share responsibility.

A responsibility to work on these issues, to recognise the humanitarian imperative to prevent harm.

When I look across this room I see a community of practitioners.

I see those who are genuinely cooperating in substantive partnerships between governments, international organisations, and civil society.

Sometimes in our community of practice we are so focused on the weapon system we forget the stories and the faces behind them that drove us to act in the first place.

Sometimes when I’m immersed in discussions about the Non Proliferation Disarmament Initiative, for example, I forget the grumpy and inspiring Anthony Guarisco. One of the reasons for my work on these issues in the first place.

The importance of humanitarian disarmament is that it reminds us of those people who inspired us to act. It reminds us that we are here to prevent harm. it brings us together in this community.

Today when I look around this room I see a tentative community. those who are beginning to know and work with, and trust one another.

We are a community in action.

And more

I believe that we are nurturing a movement in these rooms. A movement based on fundamental humanitarian principles, that is open, respectful and has space for a wide range of actors. I believe we are building a movement driven by the shared responsibility to protect the lives and rights of all of humanity.

If Anthony Guarisco were alive today, he would have been proud to joint this movement.