The recent death of George Farebrother is sad but not unexpected as he had been struggling with kidney disease for several years, fitting his campaigning activities around the need for regular dialysis. George was an active supporter of Hailsham CND (arriving to run a book stall and staying on...) but he is most widely remembered as the ever-energetic and eternally optimistic spirit behind the World Court Project UK.
George was a retired history teacher — a touching tribute came from an ex-pupil who said he was unforgettable — and devoted the rest of his life to campaigning for peace and nuclear disarmament. He was a kind man with a shrewd brain and a lively sense of humour and I last saw him at a garden party I hosted to raise funds for WCP’s sister organisation Abolition 2000. Here a nice personal link with Merton arose: George’s wife Jean was a childhood neighbour and schoolfellow of our own Sheila Knight.
When he visited Wimbledon about 20 years ago he spoke fluently about his vision for the future of world peace through law: by promoting the World Court and the rule of international law there is the possibility of a just and peaceful future for us all. The World Court Project was launched in 1992 by a coalition of international citizens organisations, and in 1994 helped to persuade the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a resolution requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice† on the question “Is the threat or use of nuclear weapons in any circumstance permitted under international law?”
George worked tirelessly to help promote Individual Declarations of Public Conscience, four million of which were accepted by the Court as “citizen’s evidence” in support of the case, the first time civil society had contributed to the making of international law in this way. 45 states and the World Health Organisation also gave evidence and after 7 months’ deliberation the Court gave its decision on 8th July 1996: it accepted the UN General Assembly’s question (although the nuclear weapons states had argued that the Court should use its discretion not to answer the question!) and gave a 34-page Advisory Opinion, plus copious notes and addenda.
The Opinion effectively confirmed that nuclear weapons are in the same stigmatized category as chemical and biological weapons (which are banned regardless of size) because of “their capacity to cause untold human suffering and their ability to cause damage to generations to come”. The judges agreed unanimously that “a threat or use of nuclear weapons should be compatible with the requirements of international law applicable in armed conflict, particularly those of the principles and rules of international humanitarian law”. “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”
There was one caveat: the Court could not conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defence “in which the very survival of a State would be at risk”, but nevertheless the Court decided unanimously that even in such an extreme case threat or use must comply with international humanitarian law. There therefore remains the possibility that a small, precisely targeted nuclear weapon used in self-defence might not be unlawful. Here, we have to remember that each UK Trident missile carries three warheads, each with a yield of about 100 kilotons (the explosive power of 24 Hiroshima bombs) and hence there is no scenario in which even one Trident missile could legally be used.
Working for nuclear disarmament through international law is slow, painstaking and unglamorous, but George remained convinced that it was the way forward and recent international developments are supporting this approach. The three ‘Humanitarian’ conferences hosted by non-aligned states (most recently in Austria in December 2014 [see February Newsletter]) have produced powerful statements about the unacceptability of the impact of nuclear weapons under humanitarian law. The ‘Austrian Pledge’ calls upon “all relevant stakeholders, states, international organisations, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movements, parliamentarians and civil society” to “stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in the light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks”.
The UK ambassador claimed in Vienna that nuclear weapons ensure “stability and security” but such claims will be severely tested at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference next May. After all, the nuclear weapons states have had nearly sixty years to get their act together since 1968. The NPT bargain was that the non-nuclear weapons states would forgo nuclear weapons (although permitted access to nuclear power) and that the then nuclear weapons states would “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date”.
George Farebrother’s death has prompted me to research this article, reminding me how important it is for all of us to be aware of the international context of our campaign. Many of our MPs could do with reminders too, so please take a few minutes to write to your MP and take any opportunity before the General Election to put searching questions to candidates of all parties.
† The International Court of Justice (known as the World Court) sits in the Peace Palace at the Hague and is the supreme UN tribunal on questions of international law. Its Statute is an integral part of the UN Charter.
Discovered in the back of a post-war hymnbook (“The Easiest Tune Book of Hymns”, pub. Edwin Ashdown Ltd, 1950) was this touching revision of the warlike 18th-century lyrics of “God Save the King”, presumably published in the spirit of fellowship between nations:
God bless our native land
May heaven’s protecting hand
Still guard our shore;
May peace her sway extend
Foe be transformed to friend
And Britain’s power depend
On War no more.
May just and righteous laws
Uphold the public cause
And bless our isle;
Home of the brave and free
Thou land of liberty
We pray that still on thee
Kind heaven may smile.
And not this land alone,
But be God’s mercies known
From shore to shore;
Lord, make the nations see
That men should brothers be,
And form one family
The wide world o’er.
Regular meetings are held at 7·30pm on the first Wednesday of the month at William Morris Halls, 267 The Broadway, and the speakers on March 4th will be talking about Palestinian football (and Israeli opposition). Mahmoud Sarsak is a Palestinian national footballer, Antonio Maniscalco will report on efforts to set up a children’s Little League in the Jordan valley and campaigner John Tyman will talk about his ‘Football against Apartheid’ organisation.
On April 1st the speaker will be Dr Julia Bush, Quaker and university historian, who will give an illustrated talk entitled “Both Sides of the Wall” based on her visits to both Israel and the West Bank, her meetings with members of several Israeli peace organisations and her friendships with three Palestinian families. “The Israeli government’s ‘divide and rule’ policies have been all too successful in deepening distrust and mutual ignorance among Israelis and Palestinians, including many peace activists: how can international visitors square their personal commitment to peaceful communication with the harsh and often confrontational experience of Palestinians living under Occupation?”
Four of us gathered at 43 Wilton Grove on 21st February and made a start on the mammoth task of turning a small section of the great 7-mile pink peace scarf into warm, soft blankets for refugees. The next session will be on Thursday morning, March 12th (10am–1pm). See https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wool-Against-Weapons/570747079617581 for news of what is going on in other parts of the country.
March began with a mass nonviolent blockade at AWE Burghfield, disrupting preparations for Trident replacement for one symbolic day, and the organisers have asked for peaceful nonviolent direct action, vigils and demonstrations to continue at both UK atomic weapons establishments for the rest of the month. WDC/CND has pledged to have a presence at Aldermaston on Thursday March 19th: please get in touch if you can join us.
You possess a nuclear weapon.
He is a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction!
I went to annual conference on January 10th and was proud to give a report on WDC/CND activities over the past year. We are certainly one of the more active London groups.
Kate Hudson’s speech (“campaigning against Trident in the lead-up to the General Election”) was a fluent and interesting analysis of why it is worth carrying on with the anti-Trident campaign in the face of what is often presented as a ‘done deal’. The 2016 decision is almost upon us and Trident is definitely not at the top of the political agenda, but we need to realise that Trident is a factor in many internal discussions within the political parties. In advance of the 2016 decision by parliament, the Ministry of Defence is unilaterally pressing ahead with further spending in a way that is profoundly undemocratic (the MoD has ‘reprofiled’ £261 million, making it immediately available) and it is up to us to publicise what is going on. A £37 million contract for missile launchers was signed with an American company last November. When the annual update on progress was published on 18th December (the last day of parliament before Christmas), Michael Fallon gave the House of Commons no details and just referred to the copy in the library, safe in the knowledge that very few MPs will read it.
Kate then spoke about the impact of the Scottish independence campaign on Westminster politics. “The SNP lost the referendum but has emerged much strengthened” and there is a real prospect of greater SNP representation in Westminster after the General Election when the SNP might even hold the balance of power. But whatever the electoral future of the SNP it is important to remember that during the referendum campaign a majority in both ’Yes’ and ‘No’ camps was opposed to Trident, and the campaign certainly helped to bring Trident to the fore.
It must be assumed that the Labour leadership has discussed Trident at length and is playing for safety in continuing to support the status quo, but “Trident could be a gift to Labour!” When Ed Miliband spoke at Manchester he seemed to be suggesting that Labour might support some kind of ‘lesser Trident’, talking of “lowest cost” and “value for money”. If Labour is flirting with the idea of a reduced number of submarines, this would have the effect of delaying the replacement process and bringing Labour into line with the Lib Dems. Any delay is a small victory and it could be that Labour (mindful of the dissent within its own ranks) is finding its way round to a ‘commonsense’ position on the grounds of cost.
The Nuclear Threat was sensibly downgraded in the latest Security Strategy Review (putting it at odds with the Strategic Defence and Security Review where Trident was per usual) and there is a strong demand for a proper reassessment by the Defence Select Committee. All of which suggests a shift in debates at senior levels in all parties, again with scope for delay. “A fluid situation politically” was Kate’s conclusion.
She went on to talk about the international situation where there is “a head of steam building up” amongst the non-nuclear nations increasingly impatient with the nuclear weapons states’ failure to disarm. There is increased demand for a global nuclear weapons ban treaty and it is significant that the US and UK were “forced to engage with the process” by attending the December Humanitarian Conference in Vienna, having boycotted the two earlier ones. When the representatives of the nuclear weapons states meet in London in February to discuss their united front at the NPT Review in May, there will be vigils at UK embassies around the world.
It is important to put our campaign against Trident into an international context.
Report by Joanna
Please note the date of our annual Fête at St Mark’s Church Hall: 6th June 2015, later than usual this year because of the General Election. It is not too soon to start sowing seeds, splitting plants and sorting books and bric-à-brac.
Merton UNA Branch Secretary Alison Williams is hosting a series of workshops on the final Tuesday of each month between now and June 30th. These discussions are linked to a series of debates in the UN General Assembly and will be our small contribution (as members of ‘civil society’) towards the ambitious General Assembly goals of “Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet”.
Note: the venue is small and RSVP is essential! email@example.com or 020 8944 0574