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Declaration on the Right to Peace: Issue Paper on Disarmament and Other Issues
February 20, 2013

Issue Paper on Disarmament and Other Issues

Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group
on a Draft United Nations Declaration on the Right to Peace,
first session (18-21 February 2013)

February 19, 2013

Thank you Mr. Chairperson.

We would like to take this opportunity to offer some general views on the inclusion in the Advisory Committee’s draft declaration of provisions related to disarmament, peacekeeping, use of force, and weapons of mass destruction.  As we’ll explain in more detail, these issues are not appropriate for discussion in the Human Rights Council; moreover, the draft declaration is simply incorrect on a number of points.

First, with regard to disarmament and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the United States takes the issue extremely seriously.  For decades, we have worked tirelessly to curb the manufacture and proliferation of these weapons, negotiating and signing several arms reduction treaties and employing the toughest safeguards against the spread or use of these munitions of any country in the world.  So we understand the threat such weapons can pose to international peace and security, and it is altogether fitting that the United Nations should be seized with this issue.

However, as we have noted on previous issues addressed in the draft declaration, the Human Rights Council is not the proper venue for disarmament discussions.  There are no fewer than six UN  or UN-affiliated bodies and offices dealing with disarmament:  in Geneva, we have the Conference on Disarmament; in Vienna, the IAEA; in New York, the General Assembly’s First Committee, the UN Disarmament Committee, the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and, of course, the Security Council.  And the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons addresses chemical weapons on a comprehensive basis.  All of these organizations and offices have as their mandate, to one extent or the other, the control of the manufacture, proliferation and use of these weapons. For example, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) is the sole multilateral body for negotiating disarmament treaties.  Moreover, the draft does not appear to stop at seeking to usurp that work; it seems to contemplate possible new international forums, speaking of “comprehensive and effective international supervision” (Article 3(2)).  Such an approach risks further confusing these issues and distracting from efforts to make progress on them, including through effective bilateral approaches.

In addition, the draft declaration provides that “states shall engage actively in the strict and transparent control of arms trade and the suppression of illegal arms trade.”  As colleagues know, there are currently intense talks underway to arrive at a convention that would provide the highest possible common standards for the regulation of the international trade in conventional arms.  Those talks should be allowed to proceed unencumbered by distracting discussions at this Council that purport to create an ill-defined human right.

While we fully support the vision of a world without threat from weapons of mass destruction, and seek to negotiate a strong and effective arms trade treaty, numerous other bodies are addressing and should continue to lead international efforts focusing on those objectives.

Furthermore, the draft declaration proposes to take up the issue of peacekeeping operations, both to protect the rights of citizens and to hold peacekeepers accountable for any abuses of human rights they might commit.  These are issues worthy of discussion, and they are addressed continually at the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping, as well as by the Security Council in the design of peacekeeping mandates.  It would not be appropriate for the Council to duplicate the work already being done in New York; indeed, this IGWG simply cannot purport to tell states and the Security Council what they “shall” or shall not include in mandates of peacekeeping operations (see Article 2(4)).

In addition to the problem that many of these issues are more appropriately handled elsewhere, the draft declaration is simply inaccurate on a number of subjects.  For instance, the declaration states that the use of weapons that damage the environment, particularly weapons of mass destruction and radiological weapons, is contrary to international humanitarian law; however, this is not an accurate statement of international law. We note, however, that a number of treaties are in place to minimize or eliminate the risk of use of such weapons, and care should be taken to minimize unnecessary damage to the environment.  Likewise, while Article 1 seeks to paraphrase the UN Charter, it does so in inaccurate ways and fails to recognize that there are circumstances when force may lawfully be used, as for example, Article 51 of the Charter recognizes in reflecting states’ inherent right of self-defense.

Finally, in addressing this issue, the draft provides that “all peoples . . . have the right to have the resources freed by disarmament allocated to the economic, social and cultural development of peoples and the fair redistribution of natural wealth, responding especially to the needs of the poorest countries.”  This would appear to be inconsistent both with the principle that human rights are held and exercised by individuals and that they are not held by states.