Deciding how we are allowed to kill each other: Controlling weapons in international law

Event summary by our intern Karen Katiyo:

‘What are the ways in which we are not allowed to kill each other’? Though rhetorical, and what simply could be attributed to mere semantics, Richard Moyes’ reframing of the evening’s topic at the beginning of his lecture unwittingly conveyed the difficulty non-diplomats face in advocating common-sense resolutions within the nuances of political and international spaces. Mr Moyes explained his role as the Managing Director and co-founder of the UK-based NGO Article 36, an organisation which works on weapons, armed violence, civil society coalitions and international humanitarian law. This particular lecture addressed the use of cluster munitions and nuclear weapons, weapons which have an indiscriminate area effect. Both carry significant economic costs related to contamination, clearance and risk reduction activities, with nuclear weapon exchanges specifically having an extensive global reach.

These are facts. Commonly known and true.

However, until 2008 and 2017 there was previously no treaty’s prohibiting neither cluster munitions nor nuclear weapons respectively. In advocating for these changes, by design and necessity, Mr Moyes elaborated that the focus had to be intentionally weighed towards the distinct humanitarian effects of such weapons. Considerable danger to civilians is posed by the use of these weapons long after a conflict. This is through large remnants of unexploded bombs being left behind, radiation exposure, as well as the damage caused to the interconnected services and infrastructure of the affected area. The active participation of survivors affected by these weapons in talks to introduce regulation was both powerful and compelling. As a result, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international treaty prohibiting the use, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster bombs, was adopted on 30 May 2008. To date it has 103 signatory states. Nearly a decade later, the legally binding Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was passed on July 7th, 2017 (for which Mr Moyes as a member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) won a Nobel Peace Prize). As of September 2018, 67 states are signatories to this treaty and 19 have ratified it.

Aptly put by Mr Moyes mid-lecture, common sense suggests we ban these weapons and just not kill each other. However, the global reality riddled with political and power plays in which this issue resides, insists we agree on what cannot be used to kill each other – at least as a start.