World Court Project Alert!

The spring Science for Peace Bulletin carried an article on the World Court Project (WCP) by Alan Phillips and came with a copy of the CPPN’W‘s Declaration of Conscience. Did you sign it and send it in? The time for action in now! So, what can you do, and why should Science for Peace work on the WCP?

From the outset ending the nuclear arms race and the threat of these omnicidal weapons has been a major goal of SfP work. The WCP is a significant citizens’ initiative to delegitimize nuclear weapons and thus move towards abolishing them. We as individuals for the first time can make our voice, unfiltered by our government, count, on this issue, before the International Court of Justice. An opinion ruling nuclear weapons illegal—as the best available legal advice says the court is likely to do— will cut the appeal of nuclear weapons as the currency of power.

Speaking at the Harbourfront forum on the WCP on 28 May, Commander Robert Green, R.N. (Ret’d), who heads the British section of the WCP, made an arresting claim: the WCP is the vaccine for the nuclear virus which is about to become an epidemic. He reported on the unexpected success registered at the World Health Assembly on 14 May when, by 73-40 (Canada voting with those opposing), a resolution was passed “to request the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion on the following question: In view of the health and environmental effects, would the use of nuclear weapons by a State in war or other armed conflict be a breach of its obligations under international law including the WHO Constitution?” Autumn would be the earliest possible date for an ICJ hearing on this question.

A WCP resolution will be put before the United Nations’ General Assembly in October. Green pointed out that Canada had been the “backdrop”

to the research that resulted in the first atomic bomb and that it could exercise crucial leverage on the US, the UK, and France, who now oppose the WCP. In Ottawa that day with VANA’s help he had got Liberal Warren Allmand and NDPers Svend Robinson, Dan Heap, and Lynn Hunter to sign Declarations of Conscience. Both Liberal and NDP signers said they would seek the support of their party for the WCP. A practical goal to work on is to get these two parties to incorporate in their election platform Canada’s co-sponsorship of the WCP resolution at the UN General Assembly in October. (Tory David MacDonald also took a Declaration of Conscience, to consider.)

The UN resolution will undoubtedly pass, he said, since the non-aligned nations will support it. But to influence the nuclear power hold outs, it would be useful to have a coalition of Ireland (a neutral, nuclear-free nation), New Zealand (where the Labour party will campaign in the fall election on a platform including support for the WCP), Australia, and Canada co-sponsor the resolution, which reads: “to request the International Court of Justice to urgently render its advisory opinion on whether or not the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons are permitted under international law.”

Green urged us to get the WCP endorsed by the various groups to which we belong. People must be recruited to sign the Declaration of Conscience, which must be individual, not a petition.

The next day, 29 May, at an SIP seminar on the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban, Canada’s Ambassador for Disarmament at the UN, Peggy Mason, asserted that both she and the Canadian government strongly oppose the whole idea of seeking an ICJ ruling to determine the legality of nuclear weapons in the light of international conventions. They think it is the kind of case that will not gain US and other great power acceptance of the ICJ. (Curious, when one remembers US rejection of the ICJ ruling on American destruction of Nicaragua’s harbour facilities.)

The relevant international conventions enshrine the seven major principles of war, namely, that international law prohibits weapons and tactics that: cause unnecessary suffering and aggravated harm; do not discriminate between civilian and military targets and personnel; cause disproportionate damage; produce poisonous results or cause genetic damage; cause widespread, long-term, and severe environmental damage; violate the rights of neutral countries; or produce genocidal effects or violate the Nuremburg Principles.

Mason indicated she supports the NPT and the CTB as instruments of moral and symbolic value and as steps towards delegitimizing nuclear weapons. When I urged that the WCP is an initiative of moral and symbolic value to achieve a similar effect, and that it will raise public awareness, create momentum, and involve citizens in building pressure on the governments, she accepted it as a legitimate citizens’ and NGO endeavour.

It’s up to us to use this opportunity to work against nuclear weapons. The project’s goal is to get as many signed declarations in by late October as possible. They will be taken to the UN, but declarations signed later can be used as evidence of citizen opinion at the ICJ during the hearing itself. If you need more information, the SfP office has educational materials on the WCP from the International Peace Bureau, including a report of an international conference held 14-15 May 1992 to launch the project, an IPB book on the legal arguments, and discussion guides from CPPNW and Project Ploughshares.