Making History: TPNW hits 50 ratifications

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) just reached the 50 ratifications needed for entry into force! On the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN, Honduras ratified the treaty bringing about a historic milestone. In 90 days the TPNW will enter into force and become binding international law!

Mines Action Canada congratulates the 50 states and the dedicated campaigners of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons on making history. Those 50 states are on the right side of history and we hope that Canada will soon join them.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has provisions to mitigate the harm caused by nuclear weapons use and testing that will start being implemented immediately making it a very useful new addition to international law. Canada should support that work in line with our commitment to the SDGs, a Feminist Foreign Policy and the rules based international order and the join the Treaty without delay.

Congratulations to all 50 states for leading the way to a world free of nuclear weapons, and to everybody who was ever involved in making this happen!

 

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MAC Congratulates 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Winner!

Mines Action Canada congratulates the World Food Program (WFP) on being awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. We are very pleased that WFP's efforts to eradicate the use of hunger as a weapon and their lifesaving work around the world has been recognized by the Nobel Committee. The use of hunger as a weapon through instituting blockades and sieges is a war crime that we have unfortunately seen used too often in the past decade. We know that armed conflict also leads to hunger through the destruction of infrastructure, displacement, contamination of agricultural land with landmines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war, and economic devastation. This award celebrates the contributions of WFP staff and implementing partners who work in extremely difficult conditions to ensure people's most basic needs are met.
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CCW from a distance

Delivered to the Convention on Conventional Weapons' Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems by Executive Director, Paul Hannon, from our office in Ottawa via the online platform Interprefy.

Thank you Chair and thank you to Germany and the ODA for their support in permitting remote participation. I would like to acknowledge that I am speaking to you today from the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin people. Recognizing the indigenous nations upon whose land we are working is an excellent reminder of the need to ensure that these discussions are inclusive and grounded in humanity. 

As a member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, Mines Action Canada encourages the high contracting parties to ensure that CCW continues to draw on the expertise from civil society and the private sector. Civil society and the private sector have made significant contributions to the discussion since the beginning and High Contracting Parties have frequently commented including today on the importance of contributions from civil society. Our role should be safeguarded in any future work streams to ensure that all these discussions are inclusive. 

To keep our conversations grounded in humanity, we recommend adding in a work stream on moral or ethical concerns. A technocratic debate is insufficient to deal with the challenges posed by autonomous weapons systems. We need to be able to answer questions like “how can one test the humanity of an algorithm?” or “what is the relationship between explainablity and ethics?” Explainablity should never be considered as a synonym for ethical. 

 We are pleased to hear many delegations express a desire to move on from a discussion of definitions and characteristics because we note that CCW Protocol IV does not have a definition of a blinding laser weapon. It prohibits “laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices.” and while there is a definition of permanent blindness in Article 4 there is no definition of laser weapon in the Protocol. That lack of a definition obviously did not prevent negotiations nor stop it from being an effective Protocol. 

We appreciate the robust debate this week and would like to direct specific attention to Austria’s comments outlining the needs to show that this GGE is not an isolated diplomatic silo. The work here must reflect the situation outside of CCW where scientists, experts and industry are calling for action, where the public wants to prohibit autonomous weapons, and where political leaders are stepping up. Ambitious guidance at the political level such as the mandate letter for Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs which instructs him to Advance international efforts to ban the development and use of fully autonomous weapons systems” are not being matched by ambition in the CCW 

New international law is needed to address the multitude of concerns with autonomous weapon systems. It is time to negotiate another legally binding instrument, either here or elsewhere. That instrument should include: 

  • A general obligation to maintain meaningful human control over the use of force;
  • Prohibitions on weapons systems that select and engage targets and by their nature pose fundamental moral or legal problems; and  
  • Specific positive obligations to help ensure that meaningful human control is maintained in the use of all other systems that select and engage targets. 

Mines Action Canada appreciates the guiding questions put forward by the chair in his non-paper and we would like to present some additional questions for delegates to consider today and in future meetings:  

  • Considering what you have heard about data bias, are these conversations inclusive? 
  • Do our statements reflect the public conscience and political will of our citizens? 
  • Are we being as ambitious as those inventing new technology? 
  • What or who is missing from these conversations? 
  • Will a future generation of diplomats need to negotiate a treaty to protect the rights, lives and livelihoods of civilian victims of autonomous weapons systems because this generation did not seize the chance to negotiate a pre-emptive ban?  

We do not want to be the people who let the world sleepwalk into another humanitarian crisis. It is time for ambition and for taking the next step.  

Thank you.  

 

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Ignominious Anniversary

 

To mark the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6 2020, Mines Action Canada Program Manager, Erin Hunt, spoke at Ethics in Tech's event called "Ignominious Anniversary: Remembering Hiroshima and Imagining a World Without Autonomous Killer Robots, Nuclear Weapons and Blanket Surveillance." You can watch the whole event online at the Ethics in Tech website or on YouTube: 

Read more for her full remarks.

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150+ Organizations Issue Global Call For "New Normal"

Humanitarian disarmament approach offers proven model for change

(July 2, 2020)—More than 150 organizations from around the world released a joint letter today stating that humanitarian disarmament can lead the way to an improved post-pandemic world.

Endorsed by global campaigns that have garnered two Nobel Peace Prizes and fostered the creation of four international treaties in the past 25 years, the letter argues that humanitarian disarmament's proven human-centered approach should guide current and future efforts in dealing with the pandemic and advancing human security.

“This year has shown that security is not just about military might. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as locusts in East Africa and the wildfires in Australia, show that we need a dramatic shift in our understanding of what true security means” said Erin Hunt, Program Manager at Mines Action Canada. “Expertise from civil society and cooperation between states will be key to building a safer post-pandemic world and we encourage Canada to foster these partnerships at home and around the world.”

The letter’s signatories include local, national, regional, and international organizations from around the world. Disarmament, human rights, peace, faith, medical, student, development, and other groups have all endorsed the letter. The widespread support across campaigns underscores how seriously the humanitarian disarmament community views the letter’s call. 

Humanitarian disarmament seeks to reduce the human suffering and environmental damage inflicted by arms. To advance its goals of preventing and remediating harm, money invested in unacceptable weapons would be better spent on humanitarian purposes, the letter says. 

As COVID-19 exacerbates inequalities and presents new challenges for conflict survivors and other persons with disabilities, the letter also warns against entrenching marginalization. It calls for inclusive and non-discriminatory measures to bring affected communities into decision-making.

During the pandemic, international diplomacy has gone digital, creating the possibility for more meaningful and inclusive participation. The letter argues for seizing these opportunities while ensuring accessibility and inclusivity. It also stresses that cooperation—including the coordination, information exchange, and resource sharing that underlie humanitarian disarmament agreements—is essential to addressing global issues.

The letter concludes with a call to prioritize human security, allocate spending on humanitarian causes, work to eliminate inequalities, ensure multilateral fora incorporate diverse voices, and bring a cooperative mindset to problems of practice and policy.   

The original endorsers of the letter were leading humanitarian disarmament campaigns with hundreds of member organizations. They include the International Campaign to Ban Landmines–Cluster Munition Coalition and International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, winners, respectively, of the 1997 and 2017 Nobel Peace Prizes. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, Conflict and Environment Observatory, Control Arms, and the International Network on Explosive Weapons are also original endorsers.

Key humanitarian disarmament treaties include the Mine Ban Treaty (1997), Convention on Cluster Munitions (2008), Arms Trade Treaty (2013), and Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (2017).

The letter remains open for future signature by civil society organizations worldwide.

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Open Letter on COVID-19 and Humanitarian Disarmament

For more information, contact:

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Staying Safe & Documenting Abandoned or Mis-fired Riot Control Munitions

We’re seeing reports of people finding un-exploded stun grenades and more on the street after protests in the US.

Don’t touch these items, they could still be dangerous! 

Based on our experience with landmines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war, we have put together this hand-out on how to stay safe and document what has been #usedonprotests.

Full colour version.

Limited colour version.

Feel free to share widely.

 

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In Mine Action Every Day Should Be International Women's Day

Mine action is and should be everybody’s concern – and for very obvious reasons. The effects of landmines are felt by men, women and children in different ways, but all are affected and so the solutions to end this problem should be sought and supported by all. Unfortunately, women remain under represented in this field of work. Discussions on the subject are normally dominated by men with little representation from women (unless it’s a discussion about women’s involvement or gender equality but that’s a discussion for another day); when it comes to women’s involvement, a lot still needs to be done to ensure that they, like men, are permitted to add a meaningful voice to inform policy, actions and decisions.

Mines Action Canada has worked since 1998 to train, mentor and empower youth to address the impacts of inhumane and indiscriminate weapons. The Mine Action Fellows Program, started by MAC in 2018, has 45 youth from 25 countries enrolled so far. These are young people who are interested in or are already involved with civil society organizations working in mine action. The 2018 and 2019 cohorts focused on young women and deliberately so, to increase female involvement in mine action. This program brings to life a famous slogan, “Nothing about us without us” originally coined in Latin as; nihil de nobis, sine nobis. Each year the Mine Action Fellows have an in-person assembly at a forum organized to run alongside a global diplomatic meeting that brings together various stakeholders in mine action, including governments and civil society organizations. During the forum the youth undergo various training in topics relevant to their role as youth leaders; they also witness the major international diplomatic meeting in action; as well as meet and learn from fellow campaigners from around the world.

Last year the Mine Action Fellow’s Forum that was held from November 24 to November 29 in Oslo, Norway was attended by 32 female youth from 13 different countries. Among them were three landmine survivors and 22 were from landmine affected countries. Having survivors at this forum was important for us because they hold the lived experience of the harmful effects of landmines and their stories are such a powerful force to compliment all the statistics and data collected and shared to inform policy and decisions. Landmine survivors are truly experts in landmines. The forum took place alongside the 4th Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty. The Review Conference is a formal diplomatic meeting of all states parties to the Mine Ban Treaty that reviews progress made in achieving the treaty obligations and set an action plan for the next five years. These young women were exposed to formal plenary discussions and after some basic training in lobbying, they also got an opportunity to speak with governments that had not yet submitted their annual Article 7 transparency reports and encouraged them to do so. It was interesting to see these young women confidently and in certain instances persistently take on governments and ask them to account for their Article 7 reports. The assertive manner with which they did this could not go unnoticed – they sure did make MAC proud. What I saw in these youth was the future of Mine Action in good hands.

 

During this time the youth also drafted and presented a statement to the conference delegates, in which they called for increased resources, political will and concrete support by all states parties to finish the job by 2025. They were very clear about having the job done by 2025, and in their call to get this done they stated very boldly; “Our generation is ready to help finish the job on landmines, but in many of our countries we still need your support. We cannot wait forever so we are giving you only 5 (more) years”.  The youth statement was the highlight of the Forum and for many, the Review Conference as well. The conference ended on a high with this powerful statement which was read out by four of the young women, each taking a part in one of the UN languages, namely English, French, Arabic and Spanish.

From this unforgettable experience for those involved, MAC sent a strong message to the world; that you cannot leave out such an important group when you discuss something that affects the communities they live in. Young women should be involved at every level of mine action because just as the problem affects them, they should also be part of the solution. And because this year’s theme for International women’s day, Each for Equal is about collective individualism, we believe that each of the young women who represented their community at the conference went back to add their voice and effort to the field for a bigger impact as they clearly put it in their statement:

“Each of us present here is proof that if there is a strong commitment to a better world, whatever language you speak, whatever country you come from, by uniting your strengths you will be able to achieve your goals”

Diane Mukuka is Mines Action Canada's Project Officer

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New research project: How many women work in mine action?

Today, Mines Action Canada released a new paper on women's employment in mine action. 

"Gender and Employment in Mine Action by the Numbers" contains the results of a pilot study on employment of women by non-governmental organizations in landmine clearance and related fields. A short survey was carried out in the first quarter of 2019 by a graduate student Research Associate and the collected data was analyzed by Mines Action Canada staff later in the year. 

MAC is sharing the results of this survey as the international community meets in Geneva for the National Mine Action Directors' Meeting. 

In addition to providing some limited answers to questions like how many women work in mine action, Mines Action Canada hopes to shed some light on the success of gender mainstreaming in mine action and highlight areas of improvement for the sector. 

The paper is available here and at the National Mine Action Directors' Meeting. An A4 version of the paper is also available for those printing copies internationally.

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Trump Administration’s Landmine Policy is a Dangerous Step Backwards

Mines Action Canada is shocked and deeply concerned by the United States’ new policy on anti-personnel landmines, a weapon so horrific that 164 countries have joined the Ottawa Treaty banning them.

The White House announced today that the Trump administration’s new policy on anti-personnel landmines will reverse an Obama era position that prohibited the United States from using landmines outside of the Korean Peninsula. This shocking change of policy allows planning for and use of anti-personnel landmines in future potential conflicts and states that the American combat commanders can use advanced non-persistent landmines.

“We know that at least 71% of the 6,897 recorded landmine casualties were civilians in 2018 including 1,714 children. Landmines are cruel weapons that are more likely to take the limb of a farmer or the life of a child than they are to have a military benefit.” said Paul Hannon, Executive Director of Mines Action Canada. “Around the world, landmines are lethal barriers to development, threatening the lives and limbs of 60 million people.”

The United States should be working to end these lethal barriers to development instead of creating new ones. 164 countries including Canada and every other NATO member have banned landmines through the Ottawa Treaty because the risk they pose to civilians and friendly militaries far outweighs any perceived benefit. Similarly, most of the countries that haven't joined the Ottawa Treaty do not see landmines as useful and have stopped using them.

It is concerning that the United States wants to align itself with recent users of landmines which include Syria, Myanmar and North Korea plus non-state actors like ISIS and the Taliban. By publicly stating they want the option of using landmines, the United States is providing cover to these states and armed groups’ continued use of these horrific weapons. 

“The myth of advanced non-persistent landmines reducing casualties is just that a myth. The problem with landmines is their indiscriminate nature whether they are indiscriminate for a month or a decade is not important,” added Erin Hunt, Program Manager at Mines Action Canada.

In response to the Trump Administration’s new policy, Canada must redouble its efforts in support of the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines. The Ottawa Treaty is Canada’s most successful contribution to global peace and security in the past 25 years. Since the Ottawa Treaty came into force landmine casualties have decreased significantly and 31 states have cleared all landmines from their territory. The shift in American policy is very concerning but it should not undo the progress the rest of the international community has made.

Hunt added, “The Ottawa Treaty is a success in progress. The Trump administration’s policy is a step backwards but Canada has an opportunity to take two steps forward and finish the job we started in 1997.”

*** ENDS ***

Media Contact: Erin Hunt, Program Manager, +1 613 302-3088, erin@minesactioncanada.org

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Mandate Letters Set a Promising Tone

Right before the holidays, the Prime Minister's Office published the mandate letters for all the Cabinet Ministers and from Mines Action Canada's perspective there are a couple very interesting items in these letters. With Parliament resuming in less than two weeks, let's dig into the mandate letters and see what we can find.

First is the big news, the mandate letter for Minister of Foreign Affairs, François-Philippe Champagne, includes instruction to "advance international efforts to ban the development and use of fully autonomous weapons systems". You read that right - Canada's Foreign Minister as to help a ban on the development and use of killer robots. That is pretty big news. Canada has been waffling on the issue of autonomous weapons for years now. In diplomatic talks at the United Nations, Canada would occasionally give a statement on the importance of international humanitarian law and the role of weapons reviews in preventing the use of indiscriminate weapons but no one would consider Canada a leader on this issue. Now Canada needs to join the likes of Austria, Chile, and Brazil in not only calling for a ban on autonomous weapons systems but actively working for one. This addition to the mandate letter has definitely been noticed internationally and states will be looking to see a change in Canada's position at the United Nations. We will be watching closely to see how Global Affairs implements this instruction from the mandate letter. We will be looking to see if Minister Champagne is working with his counterparts in National Defense, Innovation, Science, and Industry, Public Safety and Justice to formulate a strategy to bring Canada and the world towards a ban on autonomous weapons systems. Canadian diplomats will need to have the time and resources needed to make this ban a reality but with support and political will it can be done in the next two to three years.

Next up, both Minister Champagne and Minister of National Defence, Harjit Sajjan, have instructions related to the women, peace and security agenda in their mandate letters. This is more great news for our work. Mines Action Canada knows that humanitarian disarmament and the women, peace and security agenda are closely linked. Better implementation of disarmament treaties like the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines protects girls and women in conflict affected areas while better implementation of the women, peace and security agenda increases women's participation in disarmament decision making resulting in better outcomes for us all. 

Finally, there is a strong focus on the Sustainable Development Goals and the effectiveness of international assistance in the mandate letter for Minister of International Development, Karina Gould. That is important because there are significant links between the Sustainable Development Goals and disarmament, whether it is nuclear disarmament or clearance of landmines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war. Landmine clearance alone is linked to progress on 12 Sustainable Development Goals. The focus on effective international assistance is welcome because we know that supporting mine action (clearance of contaminated land and victim assistance) provides exceptional value for money. Landmines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war are lethal barriers to development so support to mine action allows all other development work to happen. When land is cleared and survivors are assisted, communities can safely grow food, refugees and displaced persons can return home and trade can flow smoothly. A recent report showed that for every dollar invested into mine action in Lebanon resulted in an economic benefit of $4.15. If Canada is looking for development projects that promote the Sustainable Development Goals and exemplify effective international assistance, mine action is the way to go. Plus, we would be finishing what Canada started in 1997 with the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines. 

Based on these mandate letters, there is a lot of potential for Canada to resume its position as a champion of humanitarian disarmament and help make the world a safer place for us all. Let's hope the Ministers have the courage to see them though.

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