The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the first globally applicable multilateral agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons. It is also the first to include provisions to help address the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapon use and testing. The Treaty complements the existing international agreements on nuclear weapons, in particular the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and agreements establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones. The International Committee of the Red Cross first called for nuclear weapons to be abolished in September 1945, shortly after the devastation and unspeakable suffering in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The TPNW was adopted by a United Nations’s diplomatic conference on July 7, 2017 and opened for signature on September 20, 2017. (ICRC Legal Fact Sheet, April 24, 2018, on TPNW). September 20, 2018, marks one year since the TPNW was declared open for signature. Its adoption confirmed that a clear majority of States unequivocally reject nuclear weapons on moral, humanitarian and now legal grounds.
However, there are nine countries in the world with nuclear weapons—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. The US and Russia account for the bulk of 14,900 nuclear warheads. These countries, (not surprisingly) and their allies opposed the signing of the TPNW and boycotted negotiations. The nuclear powers have suggested instead strengthening the non-proliferation treaty, which they say has made a significant dent in atomic arsenals (PhilStar.com, September 21, 2017).
With Japan being the only country to have experienced atomic bombings and with thousands of bomb survivors, or hibakusha, still wearing the scars of that horror on their bodies and in their minds, the history and name of Hiroshima is well-known across the world. As many will know, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima created a fireball that destroyed 13 square kilometers of the city. The facts describing the death and devastation that ensued are almost inconceivable. Around 63 percent of the buildings in Hiroshima were completely destroyed and many more were damaged. Estimates of total deaths in Hiroshima have generally ranged between 100,000 and 180,000, out of a population of 350,000. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, approximately 340,000 people died immediately and within five years of the bombs being dropped (http://blogs.icrc..org/law-and-policy/201809/20/one-year-treaty-prohibition-nuclear-weapons-reflections-hiroshima).
The TPNW recognizes these catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and their incompatibility with International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Acknowledging that the use of nuclear weapons is not limited to the immediate effects, it also requires assistance for victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and for environmental remediation. In fact, 190,000 hibakusha are still alive, as well as 200,000 “second-generation” survivors. Both continue to suffer from increased incidences of leukemia and other cancers. Many have psychological instability, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
The TPNW also provides a comprehensive prohibition of nuclear weapons and a pathway for the elimination. Although it will not make nuclear weapons immediately disappear, it reinforces the stigma against their use and supports commitments to nuclear risk reduction. In particular, it strengthens the commitments found in Article VI of the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which remains a cornerstone of disincentive for proliferation—an especially important aspect today, with rising international and regional tensions, consequently increasing the risk of nuclear weapons use.
While the treaty is not yet in force, many of the states who have signed it this past year, and the many others who voted to adopt it, are currently going through their national ratification procedures. Fifty ratifications are necessary for it to enter into force in the near future. For the treaties of IHL, such as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, national governments must formally adopt them by the process of ratification. States must then pass legislation and take regulatory and practical measures for the rules of IHL to be fully effective.
The Philippines was among the 121 United Nations (UN) member-states that adopted the TPNW, affirming its stand on nuclear weapons (Philstar.com, ibid). Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano who was in New York in September last year attending the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly signed the treaty on President Duterte’s behalf. “Our signing of the treaty affirms our unequivocal commitment to put nuclear weapons firmly on the path of extinction, a cause of the highest priority embodied in our country’s Constitution,” noted Secretary Cayetano. The TPNWbans signatories from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, otherwise acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons “under any circumstances.”
After one year since its signing in September 2017, the TPNW has not yet been ratified by the Philippine Senate. This, notwithstanding the clear statement of State Policy in Section 8, Article II of our Constitution that “the Philippines, consistent with the national interest, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its Territory.”
Under Article XVIII, Section 4 of the Philippine Constitution, the concurrence of at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate is needed to ratify all treaties and international agreements.
Sadly, the Senate, it seems, is too pre-occupied and waiting with bated breath on whether some other “nuclear bomb” will explode—the arrest (without bail this time) of Senator Trillanes.
For humanities’ sake, let’s get our priorities straight!!!