By Delia Chatoor, member of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, member of the Caribbean Climate Change Network, and a retired member of Trinidad and Tobago’s diplomatic service.
During the week of June 19-23,2022, States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), civil society organisations and well-wishers gathered in Vienna, Austria for a series of meetings as well as the first meeting of the States Parties. These historic events brought to the fore the reality that the use of nuclear weapons is abhorrent and has indescribable humanitarian consequences.
Even though none of the nuclear weapon states (NWS) is as party to the Treaty, there are politicians and civil society groups within these states which have been campaigning vociferously for their banning and ultimate destruction.
On September 20,2017 at a High-Level Signing Ceremony at the United Nations, New York, Vatican City signed and on the same day deposited its Instrument of Ratification to the TPNW. She has since been joined by many small states, including Trinidad and Tobago. The question though which continues to be asked is what can such states which possess no nuclear weapons do to facilitate their prohibition. First of all it could be argued that there is strength in numbers and perseverance on such issues in the court of public opinion could bring about positive results. Secondly we must continue to support the realisation that the international community would be unable to provide any form of adequate humanitarian response. This constitutes a direct threat to the future of all of humanity.
Additionally the use of a nuclear device would and could never recognise the principle of distinction and, among other issues, would lead to superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.
Over the past months, and with the continuing conflict in Europe, policy makers, scientists with the research undertaken along with analyses of existing principles and norms of International Law, have highlighted concerns on the humanitarian impact of such weapons on the earth’s environment and human health.
As the international community grapple with the effects of COVID-19, growing concerns on climate change and the general state of the planet’s health, any thought of the use of a tactical nuclear device in no matter what part of the world should be seen as a breach of the Purposes and Principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the provisions of various International Law treaties. The diversion of financial and human resources to the upgrading and development of new weapon systems cannot be considered equitable, fair and humane.
The weeklong events in Vienna, therefore, dramatised that it is a humanitarian imperative for the sustainability and preservation of humankind for nuclear weapons to be abolished and attention must be paid in addressing the risks associated with their use. We must continue to look at the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 3 wherein “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” It is unconscionable for a few to possess weapons which could, at the flick of a switch, lead to unimaginable destruction to many and possibly for generations to come. Is it right for the few to instil fear and uncertainty among many?
There is ample evidence and data that there would be no victors should a tactical nuclear device be used. Risk reduction, non-proliferation and the recognition of nuclear weapons-free zones continue to be some of the elements advocated by States Parties to the TPNW and many civil society groups. The ultimate cry then should be: NO TO NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND NEVER AGAIN ARE THEY TO BE USED.