By Carina Bentata Gryting JD ’18, Molly Doggett JD ’17, Lan Mei JD ’17, and Alice Osman LLM ’17
Signing up for the International Human Rights Clinic in spring 2017, we could not have imagined that it would lead us to the United Nations and global negotiations to ban nuclear weapons. With Bonnie Docherty and Anna Crowe as our clinical supervisors, we worked alongside London-based organization Article 36 as well as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the civil society coalition at the conference. We had the unique opportunity to not only witness, but also actually participate in, norm-building at the international level.
It was at times difficult to explain to those not involved in the negotiations why the ban treaty was an important or even a sensible cause. Many people questioned the impact of a treaty being boycotted by the nuclear-armed states and their allies. For those of us participating in the negotiations, however, the purpose behind the treaty was complex but clear.
Nuclear weapons should no longer be the only weapon of mass destruction not prohibited by international law. A categorical ban on nuclear weapons would increase the stigma surrounding the weapons and ramp up pressure on nuclear states to work towards eliminating their arsenals. Moreover, a strong humanitarian motivation drove the treaty. Prior conferences on the impact of nuclear weapons had led many countries to declare the catastrophic effect of nuclear weapons incompatible with any legal or practical purpose. Countries like the Marshall Islands, Algeria, and Kazakhstan suffered from years of testing and their populations have experienced decades-long harm. Victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, known as Hibakusha, along with their children and grandchildren, still deal with the health and environmental consequences of atomic bombs today. Survivors of this use and testing offered compelling testimony for why nuclear weapons should be banned.