Credit: Darren Ornitz/ICAN

The Nuclear Ban Treaty has opened for signature during the opening week of the new UN General Assembly meeting, on September, 20th, 2017.

This provides a vital step towards banning nuclear weapons completely: States will now be able to sign the treaty and then ratify it through getting the signature approved by their domestic legislation.

A total of 50 state representatives signed the treaty on the first day and three states joined in the following days. The Vatican, Guana, and Thailand also immediately ratified it. New Zealand was among the countries that signed the Nuclear Ban Treaty on the first day. As the Treaty is more extensive in some aspects of banning nuclear weapons than the NZ legislation, parliament will now have to agree to the NZ compliance with the treaty.

Download a copy of the treaty here.

New Zealand was also among the countries that signed the Nuclear Ban Treaty on the first day.

The treaty will become legally binding 90 days after 50 states have ratified it, which is estimated to happen next year. As soon as the treaty becomes legally binding, states will have an obligation to comply by it and can be taken to the International Court of Justice if they violate the Nuclear Ban Treaty. Until then, the treaty remains only a political but nevertheless extremely important means of calling out nuclear weapon states and their activities. Apart from becoming a legally binding instrument for its signatories, advocates of the treaty hope that it will also become customary law. It would then change norms of international humanitarian law and legally force the countries that did not join the Treaty to comply with it. As the Treaty has been adopted, signatory states might also have more leverage in urging the International Criminal Court to categorise nuclear weapons as a war crime, which would make individuals accountable for usage.

Beyond its legal and political implications, the treaty has ethical and social dimensions as it acknowledges the humanitarian dimension of the usage of nuclear weapons. Further, the treaty may be able to create economic pressures, as financial institutions become more and more aware of the ethical dimensions of their investments and no longer finance makers of weapons of mass destruction. As the Red Cross/Crescent stated “The historic significance of this treaty cannot be overstated”

“The historic significance of this treaty cannot be overstated”

The Treaty is clear-cut and puts an end to the loopholes of the previous nuclear weapons legislation, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, that has constituted the cornerstone of international nuclear policies for the past three decades. It contains the following clauses:

  • a prohibition on using or threatening to use, developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, possessing, stockpiling and transferring nuclear weapons and on allowing their deployment and stationing on a nation’s territory;
  • a prohibition on encouraging, inducing or assisting anyone to engage in any of those activities;

This a a groundbreaking text that acknowledges the harm done to the ‘Hibakusha’, a Japanese word referring to the victims of the use of nuclear weapons, particularly indigenous people and women and girls, who suffer from their use and testing disproportionately. It also states that nations have to assist all victims by providing medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support. The Treaty therefore underlines the humanitarian effects of the usage of nuclear weapons. The Treaty also contains an environmental clause stating that nations must address the remediation of contaminated environments, thus acknowledging the devastating impact of use and testing of nuclear weapons on our planet.

Those states that are most urgently needed amongst the signatories condemned it: In a joint letter, France, the US, and the UK stated that they “do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to [the treaty]. Accession to the ban treaty is incompatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence”. These states continue to be condemned by advocates of the treaty and civil society.

On July 7th, 2017, less than three months earlier, had finally decided to ban nuclear weapons. After two sessions of intense negotiations at the United Nations headquarters in New York, an overwhelming majority of the States that took part in the debates (122-1-1 ; two-thirds of UN member States) voted in favor of the adoption of a legally binding Treaty on the Prohibition of nuclear weapons.  Unfortunately, all states holding nuclear weapons and having nuclear weapons stationed in their territory were absent from the vote and continue to reject its content.

This is an unprecedented achievement, as nuclear weapons had long been the only “weapons of mass destruction” that were not banned under international law, unlike chemical and biological weapons, and in spite of the fact that they were the most destructive, inhumane weapons ever invented.


Four New Zealanders attended the negotiations in New York to represent Aotearoa/NZ Civil Society and NGOs between June 15 and July 7. Read about the delegation here. They reported on their experience on the blog section of the website. Watch this space as we will continue to update this page with further information and ways that you can get involved!

The action to address this crucial gap began just eight months earlier, in December 2016, when the United Nations General Assembly voted to begin negotiations in 2017 for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. As negotiations were agreed upon in the General Assembly, the initiative could not be blocked by requirements of consensus. New Zealand joined 33 other countries in sponsoring this resolution, which was ultimately supported by 113 states. In late March 2017, and again from mid-June to early July, the General Assembly met in New York to negotiate for a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

[Read about the first round of negotiations (27-31 March) and the first draft of the Ban Treaty here].

The second round of negotiations started off on a positive spirit, as the first session ended on a successful and constructive note. The reach of a ban was considered at the time ‘an achievable goal’ by Costa Rican Ambassador Elayne White Gómez, President of the conference. Indeed, the world has reached a landmark treaty, clearly stating that nuclear weapons are unacceptable and illegitimate instruments that a worldwide majority rejects.

Let’s now head to the next step: getting the NZ government to ratify the Treaty!

Further reading about the Ban Treaty:

http://nuclearban.org/

Publication from ICAN explaining the negotiations and the content of the Treaty:

ican-2017 banning-nuclear-weapons

About the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons

SCMP.com: New Treaty banning nuclear weapons signed at Un but the countries that matter boycott it 

The Japan Times: 50 signatories ink U.N. nuclear ban treaty opposed by major powers 

The Guardian: No more nukes? Why anti-nuclear protests need an urgent revival

Power to Persuade: Why the new treaty banning nuclear weapons is important and how it can be used – part 2

The New York Times : A treaty is reached to ban nuclear arms. Now comes the hard part.

The Washington Post: The U.N. just passed a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. That actually matters.

The Wall Street Journal: Advocates, opponents debate effects of new U.N. move to ban nuclear weapons

The Guardian: Treaty banning nuclear weapons approved at UN

Politico: Nuclear powers rebuked as 122 nations adopt U.N. ban

The Atlantic: 122 nations approve historic treaty to ban nuclear weapons