St. Petersburg conference focuses on parliamentarians and IHL

Red Cross and parliamentarians build cooperation to strengthen and enforce international humanitarian law.  They reinforce that the use of nuclear weapons would violate such law.

PNND participated in an important conference in St Petersburg on 20-21 October focusing on the Use of Weapons in Modern Conflicts: Humanitarian Aspects.

The conference, co-hosted by the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States (IPA CIS) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),  was held at Tavrichesky Palace, the place where the historic  St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868 was adopted. The St Petersburg Declaration codified in international law a prohibition of ‘the use of arms, projectiles and material of a nature to cause unnecessary suffering.’

The conference brought together over 100 participants: parliamentarians, experts in weapons & international law, civil society representatives, officials from the Interparliamentary Assembly of the CIS and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, and representatives  from the ministries of foreign affairs, defense, justice and public health from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan,  Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

‘Collaboration with parliamentarians is vital,’ announced Mr Magne Bart, Head of the ICRC Regional Delegation. ‘Members of parliament are responsible for the adoption of laws. And we, as an international organization, believe that laws should be strengthened and enforced.’ His views were supported by Mr Alexey Sergeev, Secretary-General of the IPA CIS in his opening remarks.

The conference focused on two key topics in the frames of development and application of International Humanitarian Law (IHL): humanitarian issues of using conventional explosive weapons in current armed conflict, and humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons.

International law and nuclear weapons

With regard to nuclear weapons, there was general agreement that they could not be used in conformity with IHL. Peter Herby, Arms Advisor, Norwegian Red Cross highlighted the conclusions of the International Court of Justice in 1996 that ‘the destructive impact of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in time or space’ and that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is generally illegal.

Karipbek Kuyukov, second generation victim of Soviet nuclear tests, and Honorary Ambassador of the ATOM Project.

These conclusions were vividly illustrated by the experience of Karipbek Kuyukov, Honorary Ambassador of the ATOM project.  Mr Kuyukov, who was born without arms due to genetic damage from Soviet nuclear tests conducted in Kazakhstan, shared stories about the tragic impact of the nuclear tests on the health of people, environment and socio-economical life in his region. A video shown by Mr Kuyukov amplified his description of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.

Where-as conventional weapons can be controlled in order to ensure their use does not violate IHL, the only appropriate response for nuclear weapons is to clearly prohibit their use, and to negotiate for their elimination.

Parliamentarians can advance initiatives for this,’ said Marzhan Nurzhan, PNND Program Officer for CIS countries in her address to the conference. ‘Interim measures are required, such as the adoption of policies never to use nuclear weapons first, followed by a global prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons…. Once a global agreement prohibiting use of nuclear weapons is obtained, it will be possible to negotiate for their complete elimination.’

Marzhan Nurzhan, PNND Program Officer for CIS Countries

Phasing out nuclear deterrence

However, it was also recognized that tensions between the nuclear-armed States are preventing them from phasing out their reliance on nuclear deterrence and negotiating for nuclear disarmament.

We need to highlight alternatives to nuclear deterrence in order to achieve security,’ said Ms Nurzhan. ‘This includes use of international law, legal mechanisms and cooperative security to resolve conflicts and prevent aggression. The United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have such mechanisms available and should be used more often to help resolve conflicts rather than increasing the reliance on the threat or use of force.’

Uta Zapf, PNND Special Representative to Inter-parliamentary Organisations, reinforced the need to address the deteriorating situation in regions of war and the imminent nuclear threats, but noted that there are a number of successful examples of cooperation between civil society, parliamentarians and governments. These include:

Uta Zapf, PNND Special Representative for Inter-Parliamentary Organisations, chairs the panel on The Role of Parliamentarians and Civil Society. Speakers include Anna Crowe (Clinical Instructor, Human Rights Program, Harvard Law School), Jelena Vićentić (Advisor, International Campaign to Ban Landmines), Lyudmila Kozlova (Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation on Social Policy), and Marzhan Nurzhan (PNND Program Officer, CIS countries).

Conclusion

The key deliberations of the conference are summarised in the Concluding Document which gives additional support to international humanitarian law, including to regulate parties` actions in armed conflicts, protect the victims of armed disputes and violence, and to prevent the use of indiscriminate weapons such as nuclear weapons.

The Concluding Document also notes the appeal by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to all States to 'pursue in good faith and conclude with urgency and determination negotiations to prohibit the use of and completely eliminate nuclear weapons through a legally binding international agreement, based on existing commitments and international obligations.'

Special attention is given in the Concluding Document to actions by parliamentarians to adopt laws supporting IHL ensuring its implementation and enforcement. The participants recalled the universal ratification of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and endorsed importance to the States to make a contribution towards the development of the international humanitarian law.