Vancouver Declaration: Law’s Imperative for the Urgent Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World

The Vancouver Declaration is the result of a conference convened February 10-11, 2011, in Vancouver, Canada, by The Simons Foundation and the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, entitled “Humanitarian Law, Human Security: The Emerging Framework for the Non-Use and Elimination of Nuclear Weapons,” with the purpose to develop the Vancouver Declaration on the legal imperative to eliminate nuclear weapons. See the link above for more information on the conference.

Vancouver Declaration: Law's Imperative for the Urgent Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World

Nuclear weapons are incompatible with elementary considerations of humanity.

Human security today is jeopardized not only by the prospect of states’ deliberate use of nuclear weapons, but also by the risks and harms arising from their production, storage, transport, and deployment. They include environmental degradation and damage to health; diversion of resources; risks of accidental or unauthorized detonation caused by the deployment of nuclear forces ready for quick launch and inadequate command/control and warning systems; and risks of acquisition and use by non-state actors caused by inadequate securing of fissile materials and warheads.

Despite New START there are more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world. They must be abolished and the law has a pivotal role to play in their elimination. In 1996 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) spoke of “the nascent opinio juris” of “a customary rule specifically prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons.” Fifteen years later, following the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the achievement of treaty bans on landmines and cluster munitions, the legal imperative for non-use and elimination of nuclear weapons is more evident than ever.

Reasons advanced for the continuing existence of nuclear weapons, including military necessity and case-by-case analysis, were once used to justify other inhumane weapons. But elementary considerations of humanity persuaded the world community that such arguments were outweighed by the need to eliminate them. This principle must now be applied to nuclear weapons, which pose an infinitely greater risk to humanity.

We cannot forget that hundreds of population centers in several countries continue to be included in the targeting plans for nuclear weapons possessing many times the yield of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The hibakusha – survivors of those bombings – have told us plainly, “No one else should ever suffer as we did.” The conventions banning chemical and biological weapons refer to them as “weapons of mass destruction.” WMD are, by definition, contrary to the fundamental rules of international humanitarian law forbidding the infliction of indiscriminate harm and unnecessary suffering. As set out in the Annex to this Declaration, that label is best deserved by nuclear weapons with their uncontrollable blast, heat and radiation effects.

The ICJ’s declaration that nuclear weapons are subject to international humanitarian law was affirmed by the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. In its Final Document approved by all participating states, including the nuclear-weapon states, the Conference “expresses its deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, and reaffirms the need for all states at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law."

It is unconscionable that nuclear-weapon states acknowledge their obligation to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons but at the same time refuse to commence and then “bring to a conclusion,” as the ICJ unanimously mandated, “negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

In statements made during the 2010 NPT Review Conference, one hundred and thirty countries called for a convention prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons globally. And the Conference collectively affirmed in its Final Document “that all states need to make special efforts to establish the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons,” and noted the “five-point proposal for nuclear disarmament of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which proposes, inter alia, consideration of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention or agreement on a framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments, backed by a strong system of verification.”

An “absolute evil,” as the President of the ICJ called nuclear weapons, requires an absolute prohibition.

Annex: The Law of Nuclear Weapons

Well-established and universally accepted rules of humanitarian law are rooted in both treaty and custom; are founded, as the ICJ said, on “elementary considerations of humanity”; and bind all states. They are set forth in armed service manuals on the law of armed conflict, and guide conventional military operations. They include:

  • The prohibition of use of methods or means of attack of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction. As put by the ICJ, “states must never make civilians the object of attack and must consequently never use weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets.”
  • The prohibition of use of methods or means of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.
  • The Martens clause, which provides that in cases not covered by international agreements, civilians and combatants remain under the protection and authority of the principles of international law derived from established custom, from the principles of humanity and from the dictates of public conscience.

Nuclear weapons cannot be employed in compliance with those rules because their blast, heat, and radiation effects, especially the latter, are uncontrollable in space and time. The ICJ found that “radiation released by a nuclear explosion would affect health, agriculture, natural resources and demography over a very wide area” and that it “has the potential to damage the future environment, food and marine ecosystem, and to cause genetic defects and illness in future generations.” Moreover, as the International Committee of the Red Cross has observed, the suffering caused by the use of nuclear weapons in an urban area “is increased exponentially by devastation of the emergency and medical assistance infrastructure.” Use of nuclear weapons in response to a prior nuclear attack cannot be justified as a reprisal. The immunity of non-combatants to attack in all circumstances is codified in widely ratified Geneva treaty law and in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which provides inter alia that an attack directed against a civilian population is a crime against humanity.

The uncontrollability of effects additionally means that states cannot ensure that the force applied in an attack is no more than is necessary to achieve a military objective and that its effects on civilians, civilian objects, and the environment are not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. Other established rules of the law of armed conflict excluding use of nuclear weapons are the protection of neutral states from damage caused by warfare and the prohibition of use of methods or means of warfare that are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment. Recent studies have demonstrated that the detonation of a small fraction of the global nuclear stockpile (e.g., 100 warheads) in cities and the ensuing fire storms would generate smoke causing a plunge in average global temperatures lasting years. Agricultural production would plummet, resulting in extensive famine.

That nuclear weapons have not been detonated in war since World War II contributes to the formation of a customary prohibition on use. Further to this end, in 2010 the United States declared that “it is in the US interest and that of all other nations that the nearly 65-year record of nuclear non-use be extended forever,” and President Obama and Prime Minister Singh jointly stated their support for “strengthening the six decade-old international norm of non-use of nuclear weapons.”

Threat as well as use of nuclear weapons is barred by law. As the ICJ made clear, it is unlawful to threaten an attack if the attack itself would be unlawful. This rule renders unlawful two types of threat: specific signals of intent to use nuclear weapons if demands, whether lawful or not, are not met; and general policies (“deterrence”) declaring a readiness to resort to nuclear weapons when vital interests are at stake. The two types come together in standing doctrines and capabilities of nuclear attack, preemptive or responsive, in rapid reaction to an imminent or actual nuclear attack.

The unlawfulness of threat and use of nuclear weapons reinforces the norm of non-possession. The NPT prohibits acquisition of nuclear weapons by the vast majority of states, and there is a universal obligation, declared by the ICJ and based in the NPT and other law, of achieving their elimination through good-faith negotiation. It cannot be lawful to continue indefinitely to possess weapons which are unlawful to use or threaten to use, are already banned for most states, and are subject to an obligation of elimination.

Ongoing possession by a few countries of weapons whose threat or use is contrary to humanitarian law undermines that law, which is essential to limiting the effects of armed conflicts, large and small, around the world. Together with the two-tier systems of the NPT and the UN Security Council, such a discriminatory approach erodes international law more generally; its rules should apply equally to all states. And reliance on “deterrence” as an international security mechanism is far removed from the world envisaged by the UN Charter in which threat or use of force is the exception, not the rule.

Signatories to the Vancouver Declaration

(as of February 14, 2013, note: * = current affiliation listed for purpose of identification only)

Initiating Organizations

  • Jennifer Allen Simons, C.M., Ph.D., LL.D., President, The Simons Foundation, Vancouver
  • Peter Weiss, Vice President, International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), and Christopher G. Weeramantry, President of IALANA; former Vice President, International Court of Justice

Judges, Lawyers, Law Professors

  • Jennie Abell, Law Professor
  • Waheed Ahmad, Advocate High Court, and Director Human Rights, Pakistan Labour Federation
  • Ian Anderson, Board of Directors, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP), New York
  • Andre Andries, former First Advocate-General by the Military Court of Belgium and Honorary President of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War,* Brussels
  • Tara Ashtakala, Ottawa
  • Frank Askin, Professor of Law, Rutgers School of Law, Newark,* USA
  • Mohammed Bedjaoui, former President of the International Court of Justice, Paris
  • Carl D. Birman, LCNP Consultative Council
  • John Burroughs, Ph.D., LCNP Executive Director; Director, UN Office of IALANA
  • Michael Byers, Professor & Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law, University of British Columbia*
  • Theodora Carroll, Squamish, Canada
  • Roger S. Clark, Board of Governors Professor, Rutgers Law School, Camden,* USA
  • Marjorie Cohn, Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law,* USA
  • Lynda M. Collins, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa,* Canada
  • Eric David, Professor Emeritus, Université libre de Bruxelles*
  • Diane Davidson, Vancouver
  • Liz Davies, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, UK
  • Dr. Dieter Deiseroth, Judge, Federal Administration Court of Germany ("Bundesverwaltungsgericht")*; Academic Council of IALANA Germany
  • Beverley J. T. Delong, President, Lawyers for Social Responsibility, Canada; Chairperson, Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
  • Mona Duckett, Q.C., Barrister, Dawson, Stevens, Duckett & Shaigec,* Edmonton, Canada
  • Louise Doswald-Beck, Professor of International Law, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies,* and Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights*
  • Anabel Dwyer, LCNP Board of Directors
  • Richard Falk, Albert G. Milibank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University,* USA
  • Dr. Juan E. Garcés, Spain, Right Livelihood Award 1999
  • Elaine Gibson, Associate Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University,* Canada
  • Nicholas Grief, Professor, Kent Law School,* UK, and Doughty Street Chambers,* London
  • Neshan Gunesekera, Director, South Asia Office, IALANA, Sri Lanka
  • Richard J. Harvey, Garden Court Chambers,* London
  • Peg James, Burnaby, Canada
  • Paul Joffe, Saint-Lambert, Quebec, Canada
  • Rebecca Johnson, Professor of Law, University of Victoria,* Canada
  • Hugh Kindred, Professor Emeritus, Dalhousie University,* Canada
  • Marcelo Kohen, Professor of International Law, Graduate Institute of International and Developmental Studies,* Geneva
  • Peter D. Larlee, Vancouver
  • Nicole LaViolette, Associate Professor, Faulty of Law, University of Ottawa,* Canada
  • Andrew Lichterman, Board of Directors, Western States Legal Foundation (WSLF), Oakland, California, USA
  • John Liss, Toronto
  • Kathleen Mahoney, Trudeau Fellow and Professor of Law, University of Calgary,* Canada
  • Saul Mendlovitz, Dag Hammarskjöld Professor of Peace and World Order Studies Emeritus, Rutgers School of Law, Newark,* USA; Vice President, LCNP
  • Howard Meyer, LCNP Consultative Council
  • France Morrissette, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa,* Canada
  • Charles J. Moxley, Jr., Professor of Law (Adjunct), Fordham University School of Law,* New York; LCNP Board of Directors
  • Ved Nanda, Evans University Professor, Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, USA
  • Osamu Niikura, Professor, Law School, Aoyama Gakuin University*; President, Japan Lawyers International Solidarity Association; Secretary General of International Association of Democratic Lawyers
  • Phyllis Olin, WSLF Board of Directors
  • Andrew J. Orkin, Hamilton
  • Marion M. Perrin, Toronto
  • James Pope, Professor of Law, Rutgers School of Law, Newark,* USA
  • Bill Quigley, Legal Director, Center for Constitutional Rights,* New York, and Professor of Law, Loyola University New Orleans*
  • Tim Quigley, Saskatoon, Canada
  • Guy Quinlan, Chair, All Souls Nuclear Disarmament Task Force, New York; LCNP Board of Directors
  • James Ranney, former Professor of Law, University of Montana, USA; LCNP Board of Directors
  • Simon Reeves, IALANA Board of Directors, New Zealand
  • Geoffrey Robertson Q.C., Founder and Head of Doughty Street Chambers, London
  • Sharmila Sekarajasekaran, Malaysia
  • Elizabeth Shafer, LCNP Vice-President
  • Elizabeth Sheehy, Professor of Law, University of Ottawa,* Canada
  • Penelope Simons, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa,* Canada
  • James Stewart, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of British Columbia,* Canada
  • Andrew Strauss, Distinguished Professor of Law, Widener University School of Law,* USA
  • Andrey Talevlin, Director, Lawyers for Nature, Chelyabinsk, Russia
  • Kenji Urata, Professor Emeritus, Waseda University,* Japan
  • Rob van Riet, Coordinator, Disarmament Working Group, World Future Council, London
  • Michael Veiluva, WSLF Foundation Counsel
  • Alan Webb, IALANA Board of Directors, New Zealand
  • Burns H. Weston, Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and Senior Scholar, UI Center for Human Rights (UICHR), The University of Iowa,* USA 
  • Roland Weyl, Droit Solidarité,* France; First Vice-President, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
  • Toshinori Yamada, Lecturer, School of Law, Meiji University,* Japan
  • Jules Zacher, USA
  • Luis Roberto Zamora Bolaños, Costa Rica

Former Diplomats and Officials

  • Nobuyasu Abe, Professor and Director, Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Nnproliferation, The Japan Institute of International Affairs*; former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs and former Ambassador of Japan*
  • Hon. Lloyd Axworthy, PC, OC, OM, Canada
  • Jayantha Dhanapala, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs; former Ambassador of Sri Lanka
  • Hon. Gareth Evans, AO, QC, Chancellor, Australian National University*; Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne*; Co-Chair, International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (2008-2010); President Emeritus International Crisis Group*; former Foreign Minister of Australia
  • Robert T. Grey, Jr., former US Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament; Director, Bipartisan Security Group,* USA
  • Margaret (Peggy) Mason, former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament
  • Paul Meyer, former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament
  • Hon. Matthew Robson, Barrister, Former Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control of New Zealand
  • Hon. Douglas Roche, OC, former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament
  • Henrik Salander, former Head of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Senior Advisor, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)*
  • Christopher Westdal, former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament


  • Abdullah Abdullah, Palestinian Legislative Council and Chairman of Political Committee
  • Lyn Allison, former Senator, Australian Parliament; Alumni Council Member, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND)*
  • Angelika Beer, Chair, Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention (EWI)
  • Frieda Brepoels, Member of the European Parliament, and Chair of PNND delegation to the European Parliament*
  • Brendon Burns, MP Aotearoa-New Zealand
  • Saber Chowdhury, Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change and Environment, Bangladesh Parliament; First Vice President of Inter Parliamentary Union's Standing Committee on Peace and International Security*
  • Senator David Coltart, Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture,* Zimbabwe
  • Jeremy Corbyn, MP, United Kingdom
  • Dr. Kennedy Graham MP, List MP for the Green Party Aotearoa New Zealand*
  • Bill Kidd, MP, Scotland
  • Hallgeir H. Langeland, MP Norway
  • Holger K. Nielsen, MP Denmark
  • Bill Siksay, MP Canada; Chair, Canadian Section PNND*
  • Hon. Maryan Street, MP Aotearoa-New Zealand

Civil Society Organizations

  • Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor, City of Hiroshima; President, Mayors for Peace
  • Annelies Allain, Director, International Code Documentation Centre, Penang, Malaysia
  • Marcos Arana Cedeño, Centro de Capacitacion en Ecologia y Salud para Campesinos/Defensoria del Derecho a la Salud, Chiapas, Mexico
  • Reiner Braun, Director, European Office, IALANA
  • Richard Butler, AC, former Australian Ambassador for Disarmament; Chairman of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons (1995-96); Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative
  • Jacqueline Cabasso, Sean MacBride Peace Prize 2008; Executive Director, Western States Legal Foundation, Oakland, California, USA
  • George Farebrother, Secretary, World Court Project UK
  • FUNAM - Fundacion para la defensa del ambiente, Cordoba, Argentina
  • Jonathan Granoff, President, Global Security Institute, USA
  • David T. Ives, Executive Director, The Albert Schweitzer Institute, USA
  • Rebecca E. Johnson, Ph.D., Director, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, UK
  • David Krieger, Ph.D., President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Santa Barbara, USA
  • Ida Kuklina, Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committee of Russia, Right Livelihood Award 1996
  • Tomas Magnusson, Co-President, International Peace Bureau, Nobel Peace Prize 1910
  • Ron McCoy, Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • Vijay Mehta, Chair, Uniting for Peace; President, Mehta Centre, London
  • Nataliya Mironova, Ph.D., President, Movement for Nuclear Safety, Chelyabinsk, Russia
  • Carlos Vargas Pizarro, IALANA Vice-President, San Jose, Costa Rica
  • Madeleine Rees, Secretary General, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
  • Dave Robinson, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA
  • Hiro Sakurai, President, NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security, New York
  • Jürgen Scheffran, Vice Chair, Executive Committee, International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility
  • Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation New York; LCNP Board of Directors
  • Vappu Taipale (Finland), Sergey Kolesnikov (Russia), Robert Mtonga (Zambia), Co-Presidents, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), Nobel Peace Prize 1985
  • Hirotsugu Terasaki, Executive Director, Office of Peace Affairs, Soka Gakkai International, Tokyo, Japan
  • Jakob von Uexkull, Founder and Chair, World Future Council
  • Hiro Umebayashi, Special Advisor, Peace Depot, Japan
  • Alyn Ware, Right Livelihood Award 2009, Director, Pacific Office, IALANA
  • Angie Zelter, Trident Ploughshares, Right Livelihood Award 2001
  • Gabino Zavala, Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and President, Pax Christi USA;
  • Dave Robinson, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA
  • Robert Zuber, Ph.D., Director, Global Action to Prevent Was


  • Dr. Dewi Fortuna Anwar, Indonesia
  • Dipal C. Barua, Founder & Chairman, Bright Green Energy Foundation,* Bangladesh
  • Nnimmo Bassey, Right Livelihood Award 2010, Nigeria
  • Josef Pepe W. Beerli, Kuessnacht, Switzerland
  • Carmel Budiardjo, Right Livelihood Award 1995, UK
  • Annabel Champetier, France
  • Tad Daley, Writing Fellow, IPPNW, USA
  • Heather Davison, Board of Directors, Western States Legal Foundation, Oakland, California, USA
  • Trevor Findlay, Director, Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance, Carleton University,* Canada
  • Pierre Jasmin, President of Artistes pour la Paix,* Montreal
  • Alice Teppler Martin, USA, Right Livelihood Award 1990
  • Ben Manski, Executive Director, Liberty Tree Foundation,* USA
  • Sarah Manski, CEO,,* USA
  • Siddharth Mallavarapu, Assistant Professor in International Politics, Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University,* India
  • Raul Montenegro, Professor of Evolutionary Biology, National University of Cordoba,* Argentina, Right Livelihood Award 2004
  • Masashi Nishihara, Ph.D., Japan
  • Helena Norberg-Hodge, UK
  • P.K.Raveendran, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad,* India, Right Livelihood Award 1996
  • Ernie Regehr, OC, Research Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo,* Canada; Fellow, The Simons Foundation; Co-Founder, Project Ploughshares*
  • Steven Starr MT (ASCP), Senior Scientist, Physicians for Social Responsibility,* Clinical Laboratory Science Program Director, University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics,* USA
  • Cheikh Sylla, Ambassador at large, Senegal*
  • John F. Charlewood Turner, Right Livelihood Award 1988, UK