The 7th of July 2017 was a historical day for the world and Sri Lanka. At the UN in New York 122 nations voted and this included of Sri Lanka, adopting the first ever Nuclear Ban Treaty (NBT). We are fortunate to see that finally the world has realized the need to ban the nuclear bomb after seeing the devastating impact in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on humanity and nature even after 70 years. The nuclear bombs were used to attacked Hiroshima and Nagasaki instantly killing hundreds of thousands humans and causing severe damage to the natural environment. In the aftermath of it many generations suffered due to the impact of radiation and some are still suffering from it.
After seeing the devastation that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945, various global initiatives on nuclear weapons such as Conventions came into effect for banning the testing, non-proliferation and not losing it to terrorist groups. Conventions were created such as the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water (1963), the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water (1963), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (1996), the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1968) and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).
But none of above conventions were for the ban of nuclear weapons or worked towards eliminating them from the earth. The world has witnessed that up until, now the States and Non-States Parties to the above nuclear-related conventions have been accumulating and testing various types of modern advanced nuclear weapons. Such weapons are a thousand times in advance of the previous nuclear bombs which were used for attacking Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US. If a nuclear war took place in the present day, one will be unable to assess the level of damage it will cause to humans and nature due to its indiscriminatory nature and plethora of power the current nuclear weapons possess now.
The growing influence of civil society on international peace around the world was witnessed in the last few decades taking of the leadership to ban such weapons. In recent history they campaigned to ban certain indiscriminatory weapons and supported the regulating of conventional weapons at the UN. Due to successful campaigns led by civil society it was able to give leadership to ban Anti-Personnel Landmines through the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention – APMBC (1997) and Cluster Bombs through the Convention on Cluster Munitions – CCM (2008) and regulating of conventional weapons through the Arms Trade Treaty – ATT (2013). In addition to this the first human rights convention the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – UNCRPD (2007), came to the world mainly due fact that APMBC had inspired further efforts at the international level to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities. Civil society played a key role in the UNCRPD negotiations.
The APMBC, CCM, ATT and CRPD are the most successful Conventions today at the UN, mainly due to the fact that the governments, UN agencies and civil societies are closely working together to achieve the objectives of the Conventions. Most recently, civil society successfully led the campaign to ban nuclear weapons and engaged in negotiations with governments and UN agencies and was able to give birth successfully to the Nuclear Ban Treaty – NBT (2017) this month with 122 countries voting for it. This legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapon marks a turning point for nuclear weapons in the future.
Even though Sri Lanka is not a nuclear power, the country has been in the forefront for nuclear and other disarmament efforts. Sri Lanka has been a signatory for the above-mentioned nuclear related and other Conventions. Sri Lanka took the leadership from the inception, when negotiations and active engagement with such Conventions throughout. At one time Sri Lanka was called the “Champion of Disarmament” which got positive global attention for the country, and at that time it was the brand name for Sri Lanka among the international disarmament community.
Sri Lanka always acted as a neutral nation, following non-aligned foreign policy to achieve this success. This has not badly impacted on the relations with neighboring nuclear powers India, Pakistan and also with the USA, Russia and China. These countries are not the States Parties to the above nuclear related and some of the other Conventions. But Sri Lanka never followed them and stood up as a strong sovereign state in the region.
From 2005 onwards, Sri Lanka did not accede to any disarmament Conventions claiming that the country was engaged with protracted armed conflict with the LTTE until 2009. Several countries during war time have acceded to the above Conventions to gain benefits and this includes support of world peace initiatives. Even after the war Sri Lanka did not accede to any disarmament Conventions but the previous government had agreed to accede to humanitarian disarmament conventions like the APMBC and CCM. But they were not able to accede to any disarmament Conventions and were not engaged with the UN and the international community taking some stance.
With the change of Government in January 2015, there is renewed hope for Sri Lanka that the country will accede to the above Conventions. The Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines (SLCBL) met President Maithripala Sirisena in December 2015 and explained to him about the importance of Sri Lanka’s accession to the APMBC and CCM and ratification of the CRPD and also presented him with related publications. In 2016 February Sri Lanka ratified the CRPD and on March same year the Cabinet of ministers took a decision to support Sri Lanka’s accession to the APMBC. Both actions were well received by the local and international community but Sri Lanka has yet to accede to the APMBC.
Sri Lanka voted for the NBT on 7th July 2017, breaking more than a decade of closed-door policies to the world of disarmament. If Sri Lanka accedes to the APMBC and CCM with other Conventions in September this year, Sri Lanka’s President Maithirpala Sirisena will be the first head of state in the world to deposit more than 3 Convention (NBT, APMBC and CCM) ratification instruments at the UN Secretary General’s office during the UN General Assembly Meeting in New York. Apart from the various other benefits, this will make a pathway for Sri Lanka to become a “Soft power in the region” as well as bring back the old glory of being a “Champion of Disarmament.” This golden opportunity will not occur in the foreseeable future for any other leader or country and Sri Lanka should not miss this opportunity.