By the time we go to press, it is expected that the United Nations General Assembly will have voted on a resolution which mandates the start of negotiations in 2017 leading to a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. "Resolution L.41: Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations” starts the process by setting up a United Nations conference to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. At recent UN disarmament talks in Geneva, an overwhelming majority of states supported the start of negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
Under Article VI of the NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty), the UK is legally obliged “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”.
Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon MP has said “We share the vision of a world that is without nuclear weapons, achieved through multilateral disarmament”.
Whilst the majority of nations now support the start of negotiations, the UK, Russia, USA, China, and France refused to even participate at the 2016 UN mandated working group on nuclear disarmament that led to this historic UN resolution.
In the days leading up to the vote, discussions were taking place during which the UK’s disarmament ambassador Dr Matthew Rowland was seen fist-bumping his US counter-part after speaking against a treaty.
His speech, on 16th October at a UN General Assembly debate, has been described as “hypocritical” and a “deliberate attempt to undermine the global quest for security” by the UK branch of ICAN (the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons).
Ambassador Rowland, who is the UK’s senior representative on disarmament at the UN, said in his statement that rather than negotiating a treaty, nations should abide by the principle of “do no harm”.
He also accused his colleagues of being naive to think that a legal treaty would work given that the UK parliament has just voted to renew the Trident submarines.
In response, Rebecca Sharkey, UK Coordinator for ICAN, said:
“It was staggering to hear the hypocrisy in Rowland’s speech. He lectured UN member states on the need to ‘do no harm’ whilst doing harm himself to proposals for genuine progress on nuclear disarmament. But the UK and other nuclear armed states continue to threaten catastrophic worldwide harm to people and the environment through their continued deployment of nuclear weapons which creates an existential risk of accidental, unintended or deliberate use. Far from being a leader on multilateral disarmament, the UK has been unilaterally rearming its nuclear arsenal and is now refusing to support new multilateral negotiations towards a global ban treaty.
“The fist-bump at the end of Rowland’s speech just rubbed salt into the wounds. Imagine how survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must have felt seeing such disrespectful behaviour. We want to see the UK, US and all nations work together for a secure world, and we call upon the ambassador to use his next speech to make a more constructive contribution and support the negotiations for a treaty.”
The existence of nuclear weapons poses a dangerous threat to humanity; any intended or unintended detonation will have catastrophic humanitarian consequences. The international community has already outlawed other inherently inhumane and indiscriminate weapons, from chemical and biological weapons to anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. A ban on nuclear weapons is long overdue – and the UK must be part of this process.
On 27th October at a meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters, 123 nations voted in favour of the resolution, with 38 against and 16 abstaining, despite arm-twisting by a number of nuclear-armed states.
The resolution will set up a UN conference in March next year, open to all member states, beginning negotiations which will continue in June and July.
A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead in drafting the resolution.
The UN vote came just hours after the European Parliament adopted its own resolution on this subject – 415 in favour and 124 against, with 74 abstentions – inviting European Union member states to “participate constructively” in next year’s negotiations.
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN, hailed the adoption of the resolution as a major step forward, marking a fundamental shift in the way that the world tackles this threat.
“For seven decades, the UN has warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and people globally have campaigned for their abolition. Today the majority of states finally resolved to outlaw these weapons.
“A treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would strengthen the global norm against the use and possession of these weapons, closing major loopholes in the existing international legal regime and spurring long-overdue action on disarmament. Today’s vote demonstrates very clearly that a majority of the world’s nations consider the prohibition of nuclear weapons to be necessary, feasible and urgent. They view it as the most viable option for achieving real progress on disarmament,” she said.
This is an extract from an article by Symon Hill, Co-ordinator of the Peace Pledge Union, in the Huffington Post
Imagine you were taking part in a memorial event to commemorate people killed in road accidents. You suggest that the event should include time to think about why so many people die on the roads, and ways to prevent road accidents in future. You are immediately shouted down, told you are insulting the dead by talking about the causes of their deaths. You say you want to remember all people killed or injured on the road but you are shouted down again. You are told that only drivers should be remembered, and only British drivers at that.
This scenario sounds ludicrous, but it is played out every year in the run-up to Remembrance Day, when we are told to remember people killed in war - as long as we don’t mention the war.
The Royal British Legion - self-appointed “custodians of remembrance” - launched their Red Poppy Appeal today (27th October). They are using the slogan “Rethink Remembrance” but very little rethinking seems to have taken place. The Legion talk of supporting “a new generation of veterans”. What they don’t mention is that this is due to a new generation of wars. It is absurd to talk of helping people without addressing the causes of their problems. Yet this is the whole ethos of military charities.
The British Legion do help veterans who have been injured in war. But surely such people should be able to rely on a decent welfare state. The UK government has been slashing social security while maintaining the fifth highest military budget in the world. When ministers calculate the costs of going to war, they don’t need to add in many costs for supporting the wounded, as they can be dumped on charities such as the British Legion. One cannot imagine war being funded by the government supporting wounded veterans while charities rattle tins to fund Eurofighters and Trident missiles.
Today, over 90% of people killed in war are civilians. But apparently civilians don’t count. The Legion are quite explicit about it: Remembrance is only for armed forces personnel from the UK and allied states. Why are civilians not worthy of Remembrance? People killed in Coventry, Liverpool or Belfast - or Dresden, Baghdad and Kabul?
The Peace Pledge Union is campaigning to “Remember Them All” - all victims of war of all nationalities. Why should I care only about people who happen to have been born in the same country as me? Why not only those born in the same town. or only my own family, or only myself? This is the logical conclusion of this approach.
The British Legion’s own publicity gives the game away. Advertising for poppy-themed jewellery (yes, really) encourages people to “support members of the British armed forces, past, present and future”. This is not about helping the victims of war. It is about supporting the armed forces as an institution and promoting a militarist view of the world. The Legion implies that all British troops killed in war have died fighting for “freedom and democracy”. Let’s not forget that the Legion accepts sponsorship from arms firms such as Lockheed Martin. The British Legion is not an apolitical charity. It is a militarist lobby group funded by arms dealers.
To remember the past is to think about it, to learn from it, to consider changing in the light of what you learn.
So let’s do some real remembering this year. You can wear a White Poppy, which stands for remembrance of all victims of all wars. It also represents a commitment to peace and a rejection of militarism.
If you’re organising a Remembrance event in your community, you can make sure it’s explicit in remembering people of all nationalities. You can help victims of current wars, such as so many people in Yemen, by joining in campaigns to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia. We don’t have to go along with the hypocrisy festival as we approach Remembrance Day. We can speak up for different values, wear White Poppies, challenge militarism, stand for peace. We can Remember Them All.
On 26th more than 100 Labour MPs refused to back Labour’s own motion calling for the UK to withdraw support for the Saudi-led coalition involved in the Yemen civil war. Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry championed the motion in the Commons - but it was defeated by 283 votes to 193. It means 102 Labour MPs abstained or were not around to vote - a highly unusual number for a so-called Opposition day debate - which represents around half of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
On the following day The Evening Standard published this surprisingly forthright article:
Mr Corbyn is right
Yesterday the leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, brought a motion before the Commons to support a UN investigation into the war in Yemen and questioned the sales of British arms to Saudi Arabia, which he claims may be used to bomb civilians. He also criticised the Government’s apparent support for Saudi to be admitted to the UN Human Rights Council. His motion was defeated as his MPs didn’t back it. But on this, Mr Corbyn was right; his critics wrong.
The war in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, rivals that in Syria for its catastrophic effect on civilians. Yet Britain, while indignant about Russian action in Aleppo, is happy to sell arms to the Saudi coalition besieging the city of Hodeida, where children are dying of hunger. This is an iniquitous double standard. Mr Corbyn is the conscience of Parliament on Yemen.
Thirteen women, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, several parliamentarians, an Olympic athlete and a retired U.S. army colonel, were detained on Wednesday 5th October for trying to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip after their sailboat, the Zaytouna-Oliva, was intercepted in international waters about 35 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza.
According to a high-ranking officer, passengers on board the Zaytouna-Oliva offered no resistance when the troops took over the boat.
PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat strongly condemned the takeover, calling on Israel to immediately release the boat's passengers. "The Palestinian cause for freedom and independence is a universal quest for justice embraced by millions worldwide. The flotilla is a humble yet significant reminder that it is time to turn statements into concrete actions," the statement read.
The Women’s Boat to Gaza, which set out from Barcelona, was scheduled to arrive at the port of Gaza on the Wednesday night. According to reports and photos on social media, women and children were gathering on the beaches of Gaza ahead of the boat’s expected arrival. The boat was diverted to the port of Ashdod and the women held in custody before being deported from Israel within the next two days.
“The deportation was much quicker than in prior flotillas," said Wendy Goldsmith, a member of the land team assisting the women. "While we had a great legal team assisting the women, we suspect that the reason for the quick release was because of all the negative media attention Israel has been receiving for its illegal interception."
Another boat, the Amal 2, was forced to turn back to Barcelona due to a technical malfunction. However, organisers have voiced suspicions that the boat was sabotaged.
The Women’s Boat to Gaza is part of the International Freedom Flotilla Coalition of pro-Palestinian groups, mostly based in Europe. The coalition has sent several aid boats bound for Gaza, though the last to successfully reach Gaza was in 2008. In 2010, Israel intercepted the Turkish Mavi Marmara flotilla bound for Gaza, killing 10 Turkish nationals.
Meanwhile, legendary rock band Pink Floyd "reunited" on the night of 6th October in support of the flotilla. The group "stands united in support of the Women of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and deplores their illegal arrest and detention in international waters by the Israeli Defense Force," the three surviving members of the band, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Roger Waters, wrote on their Facebook page.
Yvonne Ridley’s book is an extremely competent and well-researched interrogation of its title’s question, yet is there ambiguity in the word ‘work’? Does torture have a purpose? Is it for interrogation? Or is it for sadistic satisfaction, for revenge, to intimidate and to spread fear? Even if it ‘works’ for any of the latter, does it actually produce intelligence?
Torturing is ancient but it was outlawed after 1945 by ‘civilised societies’ sickened by the Japanese and Nazis. Many states queued up to sign on but still torture now. Prominent signatory states went ‘underground’ whilst denying they tortured. The 9/11 attacks caught President George Bush off-balance. To ‘restore’ the image of the presidency draconian revenge stunts were planned embracing wars and high profile torture. Totally innocent people were seized to appease US electorate expectations of decisive action. Five thousand were detained, justified by concocted personalised ‘terrorism’ myths. Under instruction to ‘soften up’ prisoners, armed forces and ‘intelligence’ agents were emboldened to abuse, torture, injure and humiliate victims in every way possible. Lawyers devised inventive justifications for torture, pretending it was legal and legitimate. The UK colluded and has expensively ‘bought-off’ legal challenges, avoiding scrutiny. But why do it at all? Revenge and propaganda were motivations but is there more?
For years the USA invested millions of dollars training torturers. ‘Professional’ torture was overseen by medics to avoid permanent injury but even so boundaries were stretched. Below the radar, service men and women tortured and abused without restraint. Death and injury were not uncommon. Other torturers worked secretively at ‘black’ sites and in states where torture is routine. Victims were secretly flown round the globe with covert international cooperation. Guantanamo was an artificial extra-legal construct where ‘anything goes’.
Most victims lacked any useful information, so torturing for intelligence was futile. Under torture false admissions are common.
‘Admissions’ about other people come easily compared to anything personally incriminating. The torturers filed third party stories as if they were evidence. Torturers were obsessed about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts but got nowhere. He was found by basic surveillance. Torture advocates cite the ‘ticking bomb’ justification; thwarting a devastating attack in the nick of time by extracting, through torture, information to disable a bomb; but that didn’t remotely resemble any US torture scenario.
Ibn Sheikh al-Libi invented stories about a ricin plot in London, Saddam Hussein working with Osama bin Laden and weapons of mass destruction shared with terrorists – justification for the Iraq war – to get some relief. Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were intensively tortured using Bush-approved CIA techniques. Both invented far-fetched terror plots, keeping agents busily checking to forestall possible attacks. In 2002 Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the discovery of a ‘dirty bomb plot’ - according to him CIA interrogation (torture) saved New Yorkers from devastating radiation exposure to be dispersed by an explosive device. Jose Padilla, held three and a half years in solitary confinement without due process, was cleared for lack of credible evidence. That and the London ricin plot were hoaxes.
Advocates claim that torture produces vital intelligence but say national security prevents disclosure. Yvonne interviewed victims who all say torture is futile, gratuitous barbarity. Add to that the self-inflicted image damage of barbarity and utter hypocrisy, the licence given to other states, corrupt governments, dictators, tyrants and terrorist groups. Torture by the USA and allies is a recipe for world-wide regression. Thanks a lot George Bush!
Anyone who thinks torture might possibly be a useful tool in warfare and to combat terrorism should read this well researched and considered book.
Noel Hamel, September 2016
No Second Reading
Conscience campaigned for over a year to get the Taxes for Peace Bill on the Parliamentary schedule. This July they succeeded, and with the support of Ruth Cadbury and MPs from four different parties, they had conscientious objection to military taxation raised as an issue in Parliament for the first time in 17 years. It passed, earning a second reading - but unfortunately, due to a packed Parliamentary schedule, it is very unlikely to receive that second reading. The bill was always going to receive a difficult reception because it does not enjoy the support of the current Conservative government.
Conscience will continue to work towards getting the Taxes for Peace Bill onto the statute book, but for now will also need to work on educating MPs and the public and creating the environment in which the Taxes for Peace Bill will succeed. To this end they are holding two events:
On Friday 4th November at Friends House, Euston from 7-9pm, a panel discussion with experts looking at the social cost of military spending with representatives from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Green Party and MedAct. Sign up for this at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/military-spending-whats-the-cost-tickets-27829020349?mc_cid=fef8f97887&mc_eid=1b7459812d
On Wednesday 16th November in the Thatcher Room in the Houses of Parliament, SW1A 0AA from 6.30-8.30pm, teaming up with Global Net 21, an interesting evening of discussion and debate about the Peace Tax Bill with Ruth Cadbury and other invited guests. Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/conscience-campaign-parliamentary-discussion-tickets-27167050379?aff=es2&mc_cid=fef8f97887&mc_eid=1b7459812d Places are strictly limited - so please book in advance, and please allow 20 minutes to clear Parliamentary Security.
This report was published in the Stop the War newsletter about their conference in London on Saturday 8th October.
The conference was packed, with 550 advance registrations and many more on the door. The conference was diverse and reflected the strengths of the anti-war campaign over the past decade and a half. There were a range of sessions including on the Middle East, drone warfare and Islamophobia. It was addressed by a range of international speakers and the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. He made a strong case for an alternative foreign policy. The conference passed an anti-war charter:
http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/news-comment/2207-anti-war-charter to support campaigning over the coming months. A small number of pro intervention demonstrators tried to disrupt his session, calling for a no-fly zone in Syria - which would be yet more military intervention.
For more on this see: www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/news-comment/2206-stop-the-war-conference-more -western-bombs-won-t-help-2
Today (11th October), parliament is holding a debate on the situation in Aleppo, which has seen such calls repeated by Tory and right wing Labour MPs. It beggars belief that they are ignoring the evidence of their own select committees - which have published extremely critical reports about David Cameron's role in the bombing of Libya (which started as a no fly zone) and last year's bombing of Syria. Stop the War has repeatedly condemned all bombing, including that of Russia. This move is an escalation which can lead to further deepening of the war, as Chris Nineham argues here: http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/news-comment/2208-don-t-believe-the-start-the-war-coalition-ask-libyans-about-no-fly-zones
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Gill Hurle
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND