Vancouver Declaration Affirms that Nuclear Weapons are Incompatible with International Humanitarian Law

April 8, 2011

The Vancouver Declaration affirms that nuclear weapons violate international humanitarian law, the law stating what is universally prohibited in warfare. The Declaration observes that, with their uncontrollable blast, heat and radiation effects, nuclear weapons are indeed weapons of mass destruction that cannot comply with the fundamental rules forbidding the infliction of indiscriminate and disproportionate harm.

A February conference in Vancouver of The Simons Foundation and the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms brought together some 30 experts in international law, diplomacy, and nuclear weapons, who jointly wrote and signed the Declaration. The Declaration is entitled "Law's Imperative for the Urgent Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World." and

Its conclusion calls on States to commence and conclude negotiations on the global prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, which was unanimously proclaimed a legal obligation by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1996.

The many signatories include the current President of the Association and former Vice President of the ICJ, Christopher G. Weeramantry; Mohammed Bedjaoui, who was ICJ President when it handed down its 1996 advisory opinion on nuclear weapons; and Louise Doswald-Beck, Professor of International Law, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and co-author of a major study of international humanitarian law for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Dr. Jennifer Simons, President of The Simons Foundation, said, "It is my hope, shared by [the Association], that in the debate about the road to zero, the Vancouver Declaration will serve to underline the essential element - the inhumanity and illegality of nuclear weapons - and hasten their elimination. The possession of nuclear weapons should be an international crime."

The Vice President of the Association, Peter Weiss, who has litigated international human rights cases in U.S. and other courts and advised governments on their submissions to the ICJ in the nuclear weapons case, said, "Overwhelming problems, like ensuring the survival of the planet, cannot be resolved by law alone. But nor can they be dealt with by ignoring the law altogether." He further stated, "The horrific events occurring in Japan serve to accentuate the danger of continuing to live with the risk of exposing humanity to nuclear radiation, whether emanating from nuclear meltdown or nuclear bombs."

Dr. John Burroughs, Executive Director of the New York-based Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, the UN Office of the Association, said, "President Obama and Prime Minister Singh last year jointly stated their support for 'strengthening the six-decade-old international norm of non-use of nuclear weapons.' The Vancouver Declaration demonstrates that the non-use of nuclear weapons is not only wise policy; it is required by law."

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