UNODA remains active and committed

Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament at the Conference on Disarmament, 2018 Session, Palais des Nations. 23 January 2018. Photo by Violaine Martin ((CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

A Message from High Representative Izumi Nakamitsu

The new crisis

Humanity has faced no challenge greater than COVID-19 since the Second World War. As this rapidly developing global health emergency places unprecedented strain on our medical, economic and social systems, we must work hard to prevent new risks for instability, unrest and conflict.

The pandemic arrived as our frameworks to prevent catastrophic confrontation are crumbling. Countries are building faster and more accurate nuclear arms, developing new weapon technologies with unpredictable implications and pouring more resources into militaries than at any point in decades.

In the 75-year history of the United Nations, the folly of seeking security in vast destructive arsenals has never been clearer.

Nor has the need to finally put the brakes on this deadly addiction.

Recognizing this, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs remains fully active and committed to the important work of disarmament. We are adapting our working methods and substantive activities to continue operations during the COVID-19 crisis. Our staff strives to be nimble and flexible, and we are carrying on work around the world to help people in all States apply every tool of disarmament to build a more peaceful and secure future.

I will explain how the pandemic is affecting each area of our Office’s work. I will also share some of the changes we are making to continue fulfilling our mandates and advancing the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament.

Working to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction

Our Office is working tirelessly with the States Parties of relevant treaties, instruments and bodies, as well as civil society and other actors, to continue pursuing a world free of all nuclear weapons and secure against threats from biological or chemical weapons.

The largest immediate impact of COVID-19 has been the postponement of the 2020 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which would have been an opportunity to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty’s entry into force and the twenty-fifth year since its indefinite extension. It is important to remember, however, that the Review Conference will take place as soon as circumstances permit, fulfilling its tasks so critical to our collective security. We are working with the president-designate and bureau to make sure this happens.

Likewise, we are working with States and our colleagues across the Secretariat and the United Nations system to explore all options—from virtual meetings to online exercises—to help prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction to non-State actors; support instruments and processes from the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty to the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction; enhance the preparedness of the existing Secretary-General’s Mechanism for the investigation of the use of chemical, biological and toxin weapons; and assist the Security Council in efforts to hold the perpetrators of chemical weapons use accountable.

Tackling threats from conventional weapons

As Member States review plans to hold the Seventh Biennial Meeting of States on the Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons from 15 to 19 June, the Office for Disarmament Affairs is continuing to support the entire process for the meeting, including an elaboration of the Secretary-General’s report on small arms and light weapons.

With regard to the Group of Governmental Experts on “Problems arising from the accumulation of conventional ammunition stockpiles in surplus”, we are facilitating arrangements to hold discussions from 20 to 24 April, as scheduled, in a virtual, informal format. Our staff also continues to support the Chair in bilateral consultations with Experts during the intersessional period.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed some of our practical support for conventional arms-focused projects in beneficiary countries, our Office continues to carry out essential preparatory work to guarantee their successful full implementation when the situation allows. These temporary impacts extend to our European Union-funded project on Gender and Small Arms and Light Weapons, which we are continuing through the development of online training and desk research. The global health emergency is similarly affecting our Office’s support for the African Union’s “Silencing the Guns” initiative through the Africa Amnesty Month Project, but we are carrying on consultations and coordination with national counterparts and key project partners, desk research, and preparation of workshop and sensitization material.

With our new funding mechanism, the Saving Lives Entity (SALIENT), the Office for Disarmament Affairs is collaborating with the United Nations Development Programme and the Peacebuilding Support Office to finalize administrative project documentation and compile terms of reference for field assessment missions in the beneficiary countries. Our Office will also continue to service and update, as appropriate, the databases for our transparency mechanisms, the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms and the United Nations Report on Military Expenditures. Meanwhile, the United Nations SaferGuard Technical Review Board continues to actively engage through an online platform to review the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines. This review is expected to be finalized by the end of 2020, as scheduled.

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Read the full text of the High Representative’s message on the website of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs.