Honoring Peter Weiss,
April 2, 2014
Attended by about 100 people, the reception celebrated the contributions of Peter Weiss to nuclear disarmament and the international rule of law, and raised funds for the future work of LCNP. A distinguished human rights and international lawyer, Peter retired in 2013 as President of LCNP, having served in that position since 1981. A booklet, Tributes to Peter, released at the event contains numerous appreciations of Peter and fascinating bits of history. Notably, under Peter's leadership, LCNP played a key role in the 1996 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice which held unanimously that there exists an obligation to negotiate in good faith for the total abolition of nuclear weapons.
With Cora Weiss, President of Hague Appeal for Peace and Peter’s wife, moderating, friends and colleagues offered short remarks, including Jennifer Simons, The Simons Foundation, Vancouver; Phon van den Biesen, lawyer, Amsterdam; Peter Becker, lawyer and Co-President, International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), Kassel, Germany; Amb. Pierre Schori, Stockholm; Brooke Adams, actress, New York City. Lawyer and chanteuse Nancy Stearns performed a Phil Ochs song, “When I’m Gone,” with the pertinent lyrics: “Won't be asked to do my share when I'm gone/So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here”.
The reception was preceded by an equally well-attended educational forum moderated by John Burroughs, LCNP Executive Director. It featured a stellar cast of speakers offering incisive analyses of law and the abolition of nuclear weapons. The Nation published an online story highlighting some key points made at the forum and "the ongoing need" for the disarmament advocacy of groups like LCNP.
Former UN Legal Counsel Hans Corell stated “that disarmament and non-proliferation are best pursued through a cooperative rules-based international order, applied and enforced through effective multilateral institutions, with the UN Security Council as the ultimate global authority”. However, the United States had violated the UN Charter by invading Iraq and Russia violated the Charter by annexing Crimea. He observed: “If permanent members of the Council violate the very law they are set to supervise, what signal does this send to the world? Rule of law at the national and international level is the only way ahead if we are to be able to deal with the formidable threats to humankind that we see emerging, generated by poverty, water shortage, diseases, the rising world population, climate change, rising sea levels, desertification, terrorism, transboundary crime, corruption, etc. It is in this context that we should also see the need for nuclear disarmament.”
Virginia Gamba, Director of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, said: “The fundamental question we should all be asking is, ‘what offers the most reliable guarantee against any future use of nuclear weapons?’ And my answer is: global nuclear disarmament.” She explained that to be effective and enduring, disarmament must be verified, irreversible, transparent, universal, and legally binding. Ms. Gamba said about Peter Weiss: “He embodies what I value most about civil society initiatives in disarmament. He is using his brain for peace.”
Elizabeth Shafer, LCNP Vice President, examined the fundamental legal requirement of good faith. She said that “modernization programs by the nuclear weapon states contradicts the precept that good faith obliges parties to a treaty to abstain from acts which would inevitably affect their ability to perform its terms.” She concluded: “A common view now is that states like Iran and North Korea are acting in bad faith regarding their nuclear plans, but a more realistic approach would be to take a long-term view of recognizing the egregious lack of good faith of the nuclear weapon states, for more than four decades, in complying with the nuclear disarmament obligation of Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
Roger Clark, Professor of Law at Rutgers Law School, Camden, observed that the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention, of which Peter Weiss was a principal drafter, has “special contemporary resonance”. He explained: “The two Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, held in Norway in 2013 and in Mexico this February, are to be followed later this year by a further event in Vienna, hosted by Austria. The Chair’s summary from Mexico says it all: ‘It is a fact that no State or international organization has the capacity to address or provide the short and long term humanitarian assistance and protection needed in case of a nuclear weapon explosion. Moreover, it would not be possible to establish such capacities, even if attempted.’”
Professor Clark continued: “These are the stark truths and they are strikingly similar to the World Health Organization material urged on the International Court of Justice in 1995, and on which Jonathan Schell, whose recent death we mourn, was at pains to inform us. It is good that there is a new emphasis on such material. The facts critically undermine the legitimacy of nuclear weapons. What comes next is the law and its imperative: abolition. That is what should be addressed in Vienna, even if only tentatively.” He noted that the Model Convention would prohibit development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, use and threat of use, and elimination, of nuclear weapons, and asked: “How do we generate the political will to negotiate on all of these, as I believe we must? A daunting task, but one on which the survival of our Spaceship Earth depends.”
Peter Weiss, Co-President of IALANA and LCNP President Emeritus, said that there is both bad news and good news regarding nuclear disarmament. As to the bad news, the nuclear weapon states, led by the US, are putting abolition on the back burner. President Obama has retreated from his 2009 Prague speech, last year in Berlin referring to the need to pursue a world free of nuclear weapons "no matter how distant that dream may be". Plans to maintain a secure, modernized US nuclear arsenal are proceeding apace at a cost of 600,000,000 or one trillion dollars for the next decade, depending on who is doing the estimating. The nuclear guidance promulgated by the Department of Defense last year states that the time has not yet come to restrict the use of nukes strictly to deterrence, leaving open the question of what else they could be used for.
As to the good news, Mr. Weiss said, the past year has seen more action toward nuclear disarmament than many previous years. It started with a forum in February 2013 in the Foreign Ministry of Germany, a NATO country, on "Creating the Conditions and Building the Framework for a Nuclear Weapons Free World". It continued with the conferences on humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions in Oslo and Mexico. 2013 also saw the creation of the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament, and in September the UN General Assembly held the first ever high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament. Presidents, prime ministers and other high level dignitaries from a great many countries used the occasion to demand accelerated action toward a nuclear weapons free world.
Mr. Weiss highlighted the opportunity presented by the third conference on humanitarian consequences to be held in Vienna late this year. He called for it to get down to the business of outlawing nuclear weapons, to recognize, in the words of Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, the need for a "paradigm shift".
Mr. Weiss closed his later remarks at the reception: "Despair is not an option; denial is not an option. The only option is perseverance."