On 15 December the UN General Assembly voted to ask the International Court of Justice to give an opinion on whether or not threat or use of nuclear weapons violates international law. Despite attempts to block it by the known nuclear-weapons states, the resolution was adopted by 78 votes in favour, 43 against and 38 abstentions. Canada abstained!
(Canada also supported an earlier motion by France and Germany for no action on the resolution.)
In the House of Commons on 12 December, Charles Caccia (Liberal, Davenport) had questioned Canada’s proposed abstention:
“I am ashamed of the fact that Canada decided to abstain from the vote considering its fine, long and historical record . . . For the life of me I cannot understand why Canada cannot identify itself with non-aligned nations on a method related to nuclear arms and support this resolution to go to the International Court of Justice.”
The General Assembly’s request to the Court complements a case already in the Court on the legality of the use of nuclear weapons, which was put before it by the World Health Organization in 1993. The US, UK, France, Russia, Australia, the Netherlands and Germany have challenged the authority of the Court to rule on the WHO request, but at least 22 other countries have sent submissions to the Court supporting the case.
Dr. Elinor Powell, national president of Physicians for Global Survival (Canada) stated:
“A decision from the Court that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is illegal would place considerable legal, moral and political pressure on nuclear states to take seriously their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons.”
The Court will likely now request, for its consideration, legal briefs from member states of the UN.
Canadian co-founding organizations of the World Court Project include Science for Peace, Canadian Peace Affiance, Lawyers for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival (Canada), Project Ploughshares, United Church of Canada, Veterans Against Nuclear Arms, World Federalists of Canada.
The next step will probably be to ask the Canadian government to submit a legal brief which reflects Canadian public opinion, and argues that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is illegal.