Categories

Impact on civiliansManufactured explosive weapons

Letter to Liz Truss: send UK diplomats to the First Meeting of States Parties of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

AOAV is one of a broad group of NGOs that have signed on to a letter urging the Rt Hon Liz Truss to send UK diplomats to observe the First Meeting of States Parties of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), taking place in Vienna from 21-23 June 2022, and to attend the associated Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons on 20 June.

AOAV questions the UK’s nuclear ethos, which views nuclear weapons in sterile terms, as tools to increase the UK’s political and military credibility and “deter” attack. The dire humanitarian consequences of a global security system underpinned by nuclear weapons have already been witnessed and documented, and in particular of UK nuclear weapons, as in Kiribati. Furthermore, the current escalating conflict in Ukraine has increased the threat level of these weapons actually being used to heights unseen since the Cold War.

AOAV and other organisations urge the UK to engage meaningfully with those suffering the consequences of UK nuclear testing, and with the humanitarian aims of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


Rt Hon Liz Truss MP

Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

King Charles Street

London

SW1A 2AH

8 June 2022

Dear Secretary of State,

We are a broad group of UK civil society organisations, faith groups, academics and scientists. We write today to urge you to send UK diplomats to observe the First Meeting of States Parties of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), taking place in Vienna from 21-23 June 2022. We also call on the UK to attend the associated Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, hosted by the Austrian Government on 20 June. By doing so, the UK would be building on its participation in the original Vienna conference on this issue in 2014.

While nuclear weapons continue to exist, populations across the world live under constant and imminent existential threat. Since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, this threat has increased to levels not seen since the height of the Cold War. A momentary lapse of judgment, technical failure, cyber attack or miscalculation could result in nuclear armageddon – intentionally or by accident.

Successive UK Governments have described their nuclear weapons in sterile terms, as tools to increase the UK’s political and military credibility and “deter” attack. More than two thirds of states question this approach, as do faith leaders[1], mayors[2] and an ever increasing coalition of civil society organisations from around the world[3].  These entities instead highlight the humanitarian consequences of a global security system underpinned by nuclear weapons. The movement to examine humanitarian consequences and risks resulted in the creation of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

A significant part of the Treaty relates to the legacy of harm and the ongoing suffering caused by past nuclear weapons testing and use, and offers a way forward for victim assistance and environmental remediation. States parties will be working towards these aims – the first international framework to address these legacies – but others can contribute too. As a country that has carried out 45 nuclear weapons test explosions, this opportunity is especially relevant for the UK Government. The health impacts suffered by veterans and indigenous populations remain woefully under-assessed and largely dismissed by successive UK Governments – through this framework the UK has an opportunity to address this.

In Kiribati (a state party to the TPNW where the UK previously tested nuclear weapons) the Kiritimati Association of Cancer Patients Affected by the British and American Bomb tests has reported numerous health problems that they attribute to the testing. As of 2018 this Association identified at least 48 survivors in Kiribati who had experienced the tests first hand as well as 800 descendants. Many have health problems consistent with exposure to radiation including blindness, hearing problems, cancers, heart disease, and reproductive difficulties. They report that their children and grandchildren have suffered similar illnesses and other intergenerational effects[4].

Countries including Kiribati will come together to take steps towards operationalising the victim assistance and environmental remediation elements of the TPNW at the first Meeting of States Parties this June. All those who have not ratified the Treaty have been invited to attend as observers to support progress on the shared goal of a world without nuclear weapons, through which they could engage substantively with the humanitarian and sustainable development objectives that addressing nuclear legacies would serve. 

There is a moral imperative for the UK to participate given the suffering that Britain’s tests have caused. The classified information and technical knowledge that the UK possesses also means UK engagement on this agenda would be of significant practical value.  In this regard, we would appreciate a response from the Government as to whether they will engage with states parties to the TPNW, such as Kiribati, and others, where privileged UK information and expertise could significantly assist this programme of work. At the meeting of states parties, Kiribati and other affected states parties are expected to commit to conducting initial knowledge-gathering and assessments regarding the ongoing impacts of nuclear testing on their populations and territories: cooperation from the UK Government here would likely be highly valuable.

Constructive participation by nuclear weapons states in Vienna will also help breathe new life into the faltering Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Indeed engaging on matters related to victim assistance and environmental remediation will directly assist implementation of the 2010 NPT outcome document which contains objectives relating to the remediation of nuclear contamination relating to human populations and affected areas[5].

Dialogue, openness and values-based multilateralism are core principles of the UK’s Integrated Review. We urge the UK to uphold this commitment by attending the First Meeting of States Parties – an inclusive United Nations-mandated forum – to cooperate on this shared agenda. We urge you to listen to those affected by the UK’s nuclear testing and participate constructively towards the humanitarian aims of the Treaty.

Yours sincerely,

Ben DonaldsonUnited Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK)
Brian M QuailScottish Catholic Worker
Carol AcuttSoka Gakkai International-UK (SGI-UK)
Cllr David BlackburnNuclear Free Local Authorities, UK/Ireland
Dave PenneyGreenpeace and East Lancashire CND
Dr Elizabeth WaterstonMedact North East
Dr Nick RitchieDepartment of Politics, University of York
Dr Rebecca JohnsonAcronym Inst for Disarmament Diplomacy (AIDD)
Dr Stuart ParkinsonScientists for Global Responsibility (SGR)
Elizabeth MinorArticle 36
Fiona MacGregorHastings Against War
Gari DonnUN House Scotland
Gina Langton80000 Voices
Helen Martins 
Hilary EvansKingston Peace Council/CND
Iain OvertonAction on Armed Violence
Imti ChoonaraDerby Peace week
Janet FentonWILPF (Scottish Branch)
Joan WestCumbria and Lancashire Area CND
John CooperFellowship of Reconciliation
Jude LevermoreThe Methodist Church in Britain
Kate HudsonCampaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)
Kim HolroydHereford Peace Council
Lucy TillerYouth for TPNW
Lynn JamiesonScottish CND
Paula ShawWILPF UK
Prof David WebbYorkshire CND
Reem Abu-HayyehMedact
Roslyn Cook 
Sally ReynoldsAbingdon Peace Group
Sheila Triggs 
Sue ClaydonAnglican Pacifist Fellowship
Taniel YusefTech Developers Group, UK Campaign to Stop Killer Robots
Tim DevereuxMovement for the Abolition of War

[1] See for example, Anglican leaders here and Catholic leaders here speaking out in support of the TPNW

[2] See for example, Mayors for Peace here

[3] There are over 600 ICAN partners across 107 countries

[4] Addressing Humanitarian and Environmental Harm from Nuclear Weapons Kiritimati (Christmas) and Malden Islands – report by Dr. Matthew Bolton, International Disarmament Institute, Pace University, New York, USA. https://ny.fes.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Kiritimati-PosObs-Country-Report-15-2ijrrzn.pdf

[5] 2010 NPT outcome document, paragraphs 70 and 71: https://www.nonproliferation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2010_fd_part_i.pdf