Holy See advocates collaboration on nuclear disarmament

Archbishop Gabriele Cacccia, the Holy See’s Permanent observer to the United Nations, highlights the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on women and girls, and urges synergy between the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and existing disarmament measures.

By Francesca Merlo

Nuclear weapons have catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences, multiply risks and offer only ‘an illusion of peace’.

Thus, the the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons reminds us that a world free of atomic weapons “is possible and necessary and offers us a means to achieve this goal through dialogue”.

These were the points made by Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, at the second Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty, signed in 2017 and ratified by 56 countries around the world.

The Archbishop focused on two addresses concerning two fundamental aspects of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: “Implementing the gender provisions of the treaty” and “Complementarity of the Treaty with the existing nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime”.

Gender disparity

Speaking on the issue of gender disparity, Archbishop Caccia noted that, for a long time, it was believed that nuclear weapons affected those exposed equally through blast, heat and radiation. However, he said, “newer scientific evidence has shown that this is not the case, and that the radiation effects of nuclear weapon detonations are disproportionately affecting women and girls”.

Archbishop Caccia noted that the Treaty rightly recognises this and “calls for the provision of assistance to victims to be provided in a manner that takes into account the particular needs of each individual”.

The effects on women

Girls exposed to radiation from birth to age five are almost ten times more likely to develop cancer compared to the typical European male. Further research into the factors causing this disproportionate impact on women and children, such as on intergenerational consequences like maternal and fetal health, is essential, said Archbishop Caccia.

This understanding is crucial “to ensure that women exposed to ionizing radiation receive adequate care to preserve their health and the health of their babies”.

The Archbishop went on to stress that “The absence of a solid scientific foundation will hinder States Parties’ effective implementation of the Treaty’s positive obligations, especially those concerning women and girls”, before going on to highlight some queries the Holy See has with the same Treaty.

Use of language

These are the use of unclear language regarding gender, using non-legal terms in discussing assistance for victims, divisive language concerning medical care, and referencing a UN text that hasn’t been negotiated. Because of these issues, “the Holy See cannot support the recommendations outlined in the Report”, said Archbishop Caccia.

Concluding his speech on the implementation of gender provisions in the Treaty, Archbishop Caccia stressed that, due to these significant concerns, “the Holy See considers that the inclusion of a Gender Focal Point in the intersessional structure of the Treaty may need to be reconsidered in the future.”

Relationship between Treaty and existing non-proliferation regime

Addressing the relationship between the Treaty and existing nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime, Archbishop Caccia noted that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) bolsters Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by enforcing the Additional Protocol and the Revised Small Quantities Protocol for states that have signed them. “Despite the NPT’s lagging implementation efforts, particularly under the disarmament pillar, it remains the cornerstone of the disarmament and non-proliferation regime”, he said.

All treaties together

Archbishop Caccia went on to emphasise the potential synergy between the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the TPNW. He highlighted the importance of leveraging data from the International Monitoring System (IMS) to support the TPNW’s obligations, urging collaboration between TPNW States Parties and CTBT Signatories. “Since the objects and purposes of the TPNW and the CTBT complement and advance one another, it follows that they should be promoted in parallel”, he explained.

Archbishop Caccia concluded that “the Holy See supports greater engagement between TPNW States Parties and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR)”, explaining that this could advance understanding of the human and environmental harms caused by nuclear weapons activities “and contribute to efforts to address such harms”.