The Short Speech at the Inter-Generation Forum on Peace, Climate Action and Nuclear Disarmament at the 2023 Basel Peace Forum on 20 January 2023

The original article on this short speech is available at SAFNA Blog.

The event website is here.

Tsubasa Shinohara

Hello everyone. Thank you so much for giving me such a great opportunity to share my idea with you in Basel Peace Forum. I will briefly talk about the role of international law, human rights law and young generation in the field of nuclear disarmament. 

International law has played an important role in the field of nuclear disarmament. 

Firstly, Article 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits the threat or use of force within the current international community. 

Regarding nuclear disarmament, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) prohibits contracting states from proliferating nuclear weapons to other states. This regime divides into the two groups: the Nuclear Weapons States and Non-Nuclear Weapons States. More importantly, Article VI of the NPT provides for an obligation of state parties to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms at an early date and to nuclear disarmament. According to the traditional interpretation, this provision has not been interpreted that it aims at eliminating all nuclear weapons, but, at least, reducing the quantity and limiting the use. After the end of the Cold War, the interpretation of the Article VI of the NPT has been gradually changed to negotiate in good faith to pursue nuclear disarmament in order to achieve the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued the Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons. The ICJ indicated that the threat or use of nuclear weapons violates the rules of international law, especially international humanitarian law. However, it considers that the thread or use of nuclear weapons is unlawful but it depends on the political decision of the NWS groups in an extreme circumstance of self-defence. Regarding Article VI of the NPT, the ICJ pointed out in the Advisory Opinion that “[t]here exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control” under Article VI of the NPT. In other words, the contracting states must implement “an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament” under Article VI of the NPT. Therefore, the ICJ considered that state parties to the NPT must bring to a conclusive negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament under Article VI of the NPT.

Based on the NPT regime and the ICJ judgement, the international community recently approved the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which came into force 22 January 2021. However, the NWS group strongly opposed to or ignored the TPNW. The main reason is that the TPNW may destruct the NPT regime because the TPNW aims at comprehensively prohibiting all nuclear weapons, and clarifying the international obligations for “the total elimination of nuclear weapons”. In conclusion, there is no treaty regime including both NWS and NNWS groups, to achieve the total elimination of nuclear disarmament under international law. In this situation, what should we do to achieve this ultimate goal? 

To progress the process of nuclear disarmament, there is a new initiative from a human rights perspective. The Human Rights Committee (HRC), a UN human rights body for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), issued the HRC General Comment No. 36 on the right to life. Paragraph 66 of the General Comment No. 36 says that the treat or use of nuclear weapons is incompatible with respect for the right to life guaranteed by Article 6 of the ICCPR and may be considered a crime under international law. To avoid the infringement of the right to life due to the threat or use of nuclear weapons, it clarifies negative obligations to “refrain from developing, producing, testing, acquiring, stockpiling, selling, transferring and using them” and positive obligations to “take all necessary measures to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”, to “destroy existing stockpiles”, and to “take adequate measures of protection against accidental use”. In this connection, some NGOs submitted a statement on the right to life and nuclear weapons to the Human Rights Council on the Universal Periodic Review. Therefore, human rights approach has gradually become an important tool to open the door for a new discussion in the field of nuclear disarmament.

In conclusion, international law has played a significant role in illegalising the threat or use of nuclear weapons. However,the trend towards nuclear disarmament has stagnated or even moved closer to nuclear weapons expansion. To break the stagnation of nuclear disarmament, it is necessary for us to find other solutions from a different angle and perspective. In doing so, an interdisciplinary approach is required. This approach might open the door for the access of the young generation to the field of nuclear disarmament. In this context, a human rights approach deserves attention as a new approach in the field of nuclear disarmament 

However, what should the young generation do in the field of nuclear disarmament? They should not be a political and symbolic tool for activism, but be a part of the progress of nuclear disarmament. Despite the fact that young students are important, they usually lack sufficient knowledge to understand this issue. To solve this problem, states or civil society should establish a youth forum for exchanging their opinions and ideas from a different perspective. For instance, SAFNA Youth Forum is an educational and neutral institution for the young generation in the field of nuclear disarmament and arms control to provide students with an opinion forum where they freely express their opinions and ideas on all topics relevant to this field. 

Thank you so much for your listening. 

 PhD. Candidate, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland,; Secretary General, Association of Swiss Lawyers for Nuclear Disarmament (SAFNA); Chair/Founder, SAFNA Youth Forum.