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UK civil society and Kiribati community advocates urge the UK to attend UN meeting on nuclear weapons

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A view of the UN Trusteeship Council in New York, where 2MSP will take place

UNA-UK has coordinated an open letter to the UK Government, urging it to attend the Second Meeting of States Parties (2MSP) to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 

The letter, signed by NGO experts, academics and Kiribati advocates, calls on the UK to attend as a non-signatory observer to listen to and engage with the community affected by the UK’s legacy of nuclear testing. It is also a forum to discuss ways to respond to the rising nuclear risks in the current global security environment, including de-escalatory measures and disarmament.

Click here to read the advocacy letter

More than 20 countries that have not yet ratified the TPNW - including Germany and Norway - have now formally confirmed with the UN Secretariat that they will observe the 2MSP. As an observer, the UK could offer expertise on verification and research-based evidence on disarmament timelines. The UK Government would also be able to listen and learn from diplomats and community representatives from Kiribati - the State Party which, together with Kazakhstan, is leading the TPNW’s programme of work on victim assistance, environmental remediation and international cooperation and assistance (Articles 6 and 7 of the Treaty). 

The UK has undertaken 98 nuclear weapon tests, including nine detonations in Kiribati and the facilitation of a further 24 US tests on that territory between 1957 and 1962 while the territory was under British colonial control. Attendees at the meeting will include those affected by the UK’s tests in Australia, Kiribati and the USA. A failure to attend this meeting and hear first hand the testimony of those who have suffered at the hands of the UK’s nuclear weapons testing suggests recent rhetoric tributes and the awarding of a nuclear test medal for participants of UK tests were little more than empty gestures.

This letter is of particular significance given the UK-Kiribati civil society collaboration it represents. The UK Government has been so effective in evading accountability due to the Kiribati community’s lack of political voice in the UK. Marginalisation was by design - distant colonial lands were chosen inhabited by an indigenous community without access or influence on UK decision-makers. For 65 years, successive UK Governments have been able to maintain this separation and avoid scrutiny. Now that there is a clear avenue for remediation, UNA-UK is working to raise awareness and bring these two communities together. The letter builds on an initiative undertaken last year with the Kiribati diaspora, supported by research from our partner, Dr Becky Alexis-Martin.

We call on the UK to stop neglecting its responsibilities and take all avenues to engage with the movement to address the harms associated with the UK’s and other states’ nuclear testing. This should begin with attendance at 2MSP, and constructively engaging with states parties’ work on these issues.

Dr Becky Alexis-Martin and UNA-UK advisor Ben Donaldson, will be in New York for 2MSP. UNA-UK looks forward to sharing a blog covering the behind-the-scenes!

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Photo: A view of the UN Trusteeship Council in New York, where the Second Meeting of States Parties will take place the week of 27 November - 1 December 2023. Credit: UN Photo/CCOI