[Pacifica Review, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Vol 7 No 2, October/November 1995]

THE WORLD COURT PROJECT: How A Citizen Network Can Influence The United Nations

By Kate Dewes1 and Commander Robert Green RN (Retired)


During the last nine years, a worldwide network of peace activists, doctors and lawyers evolved the World Court Project (WCP). This is based on a simple premise: while the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions outlaw those weapons of mass destruction, there is no such specific prohibition on nuclear weapons. They succeeded in persuading the UN to ask the International Court of Justice, or World Court, for its first-ever advisory opinion on the legal status of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. A decision by the Court is expected early in 1996. The implications of the Court confirming any nuclear weapon threat or use illegal are far-reaching, not least for reform of the UN Security Council. It would revitalise the Court's function as the third, judicial pillar of the UN.

This paper traces the story of the WCP as a unique umbrella network of NGOs: how it lobbied governments on the most radical issue on the UN General Assembly's disarmament agenda; how it persuaded the Court to accept citizens' evidence for the first time; and how it helped to empower ordinary citizens to learn about, and then use, the UN system to influence governments.


The World Court Project (WCP) is an international citizens' initiative which has succeeded in persuading the UN to use Article 96 of the UN Charter to request the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, or World Court, for its first-ever advisory opinion on the legal status of nuclear weapons.

Within a year from the WCP's official launch in 1992, the World Health Organization (WHO) passed a resolution at its annual assembly asking whether the use of nuclear weapons in war would violate international law in view of their health and environmental effects. Less than two years later the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution which extended the WHO question to whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons in any circumstance would be permitted under international law.

The implications of the Court confirming any nuclear weapon threat or use to be illegal are far-reaching, not least for reform of permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

This paper surveys how a loose network of individual activists and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) made use of the UN system to help the UN use its own judicial organ to stimulate nuclear disarmament.

Adopting an anecdotal approach, the authors trace the WCP's evolution through primary source material and interviews with some of the key players. Particular emphasis is given to events in Aotearoa2 and the UK, drawing on the authors' personal experience.

WCP Origins

Government Initiatives. The question of banning nuclear weapons was implicit in the inaugural resolution adopted by the UN,3 which was tabled by the five permanent members of the newly-formed Security Council. This led to the US Baruch Plan, rejected by the USSR in December 1946 because, whilst effectively allowing the US to maintain its nuclear monopoly, it would have placed control of nuclear know-how and materials in the hands of an international authority dominated by Western interests.4

The Soviets produced a counter-proposal which was nothing less than a draft Nuclear Weapons Convention on the lines of the now widely-acclaimed Chemical Weapons Convention. After hard US lobbying they were outvoted; and the first attempt to bring nuclear weapons within the law collapsed.

In 1949 at the Diplomatic Conference which agreed the four Geneva Conventions, the USSR again tabled a proposal to outlaw nuclear weapons: but Cold War pressures froze it out.5 Nevertheless, since 1961 the overwhelming majority of states have regularly voted in the UNGA that the use of nuclear weapons would be a crime against humanity.6

NGO Initiatives. On 5 September 1945, barely a month after Hiroshima, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) alerted National Red Cross Societies to the grave problems which the use of this new weapon of mass destruction posed for it. This followed logically from its growing concern since 1918 to protect civilians from aerial warfare. During the Second World War the ICRC had repeatedly called upon all belligerents to restrict attacks to those against military objectives and to spare civilians - to no avail. It was the realization that combatants were far better protected by law than civilians, yet civilians were suffering more casualties, which led the ICRC to draw up the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The ICRC urged the signatory states "to take, as a logical complement to the said Conventions - and to the Geneva Gas Protocol of 1925 - all steps to reach an agreement on the prohibition of atomic weapons..."7

The ICRC's next, and most recent, attempt was an ill-fated initiative to devise the first rules for civilians exposed to weapons of mass destruction. Known as "The Draft Rules", they were published for the 1957 ICRC Conference in New Delhi, and included the statement: "The general principles of the law of war apply to nuclear and similar weapons."

Dr Keith Suter describes8 how the conference folded in acrimony after a dispute between the Communist and Taiwanese Chinese factions as to which should represent China. The ICRC tried to raise the Draft Rules again at its Vienna conference in 1965, but overlooked an important lesson: that the development of law occurs after an armed conflict, not during one (Vietnam). It is widely accepted that the WCP has benefited from the end of the Cold War.

The Draft Rules, without the reference to nuclear weapons, were incorporated in a resolution9 adopted at the UN human rights conference held on the twentieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Teheran in 1968. This forced the issue of strengthening the international humanitarian laws of war onto the UN agenda.

Suter recounts the story of how it was primarily the result of the initiative, persistence and skill of one man, acting on behalf of an NGO. At the time Sean MacBride was Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists. A former Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, Deputy UN Secretary-General and human rights lawyer, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 while President of the IPB.

MacBride drafted a resolution which ultimately became the 1977 Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Using his unique contacts and access, he persuaded the Indian government to propose the resolution in Teheran, then helped lobby other delegations and UN officials; and the resolution was adopted.10 In so doing, he pioneered some of the methods used by the WCP, and prepared the ground for it.

Suter argues that the lawlessness of belligerents in World War Two was a consequence of the lack of any serious attempt to update the law of armed conflicts from 1914 to 1968.11

WCP Gestation

In 1969 MacBride wrote about prohibiting nuclear weapons under international law.12 However, he had excluded the reference to nuclear weapons from his Tehran resolution almost certainly because of its sensitivity with the US. This is borne out by Suter's conclusion that the ICRC failed to get any of the Draft Rules accepted in Vienna in 1965 because it overreached itself and was too radical.13 It was left to MacBride to pick up the baton and not repeat the error.

Suter ends with the following prophetic words for the WCP: "The (NGO) movement must look beyond simply creating the issue and maintaining pressure on governments: it should inject fresh thinking and new ideas into the process. It should not count on these to arise from within established organizations and governments. If war is too serious to be left to generals, then this book has shown that the law of armed conflict is too serious to be left to international lawyers. Disarmament negotiations, by the same token, are too important to be left to the negotiators. NGOs should seek to be involved in one way or another at all stages of the work."14

When the two Additional Protocols were agreed in 1977, the US, UK and France took care to lodge "understandings", or reservations, excluding nuclear weapons from Protocol I which applied to international conflicts.15 Thus the anomalous legal position of nuclear weapons was sustained. This was despite the fact that back in 1963 the legality of nuclear weapon use had been contested in a court of law in the Shimoda case in Japan. Then the court had ruled that the use of nuclear weapons by the USA against Japan had been illegal.16

In 1973 Australia and NZ had taken France to the World Court in connection with its plans to continue atmospheric nuclear tests in the South Pacific. When the Court issued orders insisting that France cease testing pending resolution of the case, France argued that the Court lacked jurisdiction and refused to appear or file pleadings. After conducting two more tests, France had then announced that it had finished that phase of research, and would only test underground. The Court majority seized on this to evade ruling on whether it had jurisdiction, let alone on the substance of the case, and dropped it. Nonetheless, NZ set an important precedent in asking for a declaratory judgement that causing nuclear pollution to other countries was unlawful.17

MacBride was aware of the need for NGO endorsement of his thinking on nuclear weapons, and he worked hard to secure it. In 1981 the IPB organized a major symposium on nuclear deterrence, which coincided with publication of a comprehensive UN study on nuclear weapons.18 At that time a growing number of international lawyers began to write about nuclearism and international law.19 The revived debate among US lawyers had led in 1982 to the formation of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP).

A year earlier, 140 West German judges and prosecutors had formed a group called "Judges and Prosecutors for Peace" who challenged the legal status of nuclear weapons and protested against stationing NATO's Pershing 2 and Cruise missiles on West German soil. Encouraged by this, in 1983 Petra Kelly instigated a Tribunal against First Strike and Mass Destructive Weapons in Nuremberg. A year later in the Netherlands, 20,000 plaintiffs took the government to court for its decision to allow Cruise missile deployments in violation of international law. Though it failed, it broke new ground as an attempt to achieve nuclear isarmament by upholding and enforcing the law. Meanwhile, in UK the Greenham Common women began to couple direct action to prevent deployment of Cruise missiles with legal self-defence based on the criminality of nuclearism under international and hence also domestic law.20

In the Pacific, Belau had decided to enshrine nuclear-free status in its constitution on achieving independence in 1979. Vanuatu went nuclear-free by statute in 1983, as did the Solomon Islands later that year. Jo Vallentine was elected as Senator for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in the Australian government in 1984. Around this time, moves were made to get Australia, NZ, the Philippines, Japan and Ireland declared nuclear-free; and visits by nuclear-armed warships to these countries plus Sweden, Denmark and Norway met with strong challenges from "peace squadron" actions in most of them.

The rapidly growing anti-nuclear movement helped to prompt the Six Nation Initiative. Launched in 1984 by the leaders of Mexico, Argentina, Greece, India and Tanzania, it resulted in the Stockholm Declaration. At the Third UN Special Session on Disarmament in 1988, Swedish Prime Minister Carlsson said that this "...stressed that all states have the responsibility to uphold the rule of law in international relations. Those who possess nuclear weapons have a crucial role...One important step would be to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons. And I believe that the time has come to explore the possibility of such a step...Now that we approach the end of the 20th century, states and political leaders should be civilized enough to accept the rule of law in international relations."

Mexico had played an important role in securing the 1967 Treaty for Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (the Tlatelolco Treaty). In 1980, Olaf Palme had founded the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues. Their 1982 report stated: "There can be no hope of victory in a nuclear war, the two sides would be united in suffering and destruction. They can only survive together." With such fine examples to inspire them and give them authority, Mexican diplomats and Swedish politicians would play key roles in the WCP.

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a powerful condemnation of nuclear weapons. Citing Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the Committee's General Comment 14 (23) ended as follows: "The production, testing, possession, deployment and use of nuclear weapons should be prohibited and recognized as crimes against humanity. The Committee accordingly, in the interest of mankind, calls upon all States, whether Parties to the Covenant or not, to take urgent steps, unilaterally and by agreement, to rid the world of this menace."

MacBride's work came to fruition in 1985 when he chaired the London Nuclear Warfare Tribunal, which the UK Ecology Party initiated following Petra Kelly's 1983 example and organized with Lawyers for Nuclear Disarmament. The tribunal, which included US international law expert Professor Richard Falk, concluded that "current and planned (nuclear) weapons developments, strategies and deployments violate the basic rules and principles of international law."21 MacBride followed this up with a Lawyers' Appeal calling for the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Launched in 1987, it declared that the use of a nuclear weapon would constitute a violation of international law and human rights, and a crime against humanity. His hope was to present it to the UN General Assembly "which is empowered to request the International Court of Justice to give an opinion as to the validity of our Declaration."22 Sadly he died in 1988; but by 1992 it had been signed by 11,000 lawyers from 56 countries.

Another significant development for the future WCP occurred in 1987. The LCNP co-sponsored with the Association of Soviet Lawyers an International Conference on Nuclear Weapons and International Law, the first such event to be jointly held by US and Soviet lawyers. Some of the speakers were to become key players in the WCP. It was decided to form the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA). Two years later it held a World Congress at The Hague, at which it adopted a Declaration which included an appeal to UN members to "take immediate steps towards obtaining a resolution by the United Nations (General) Assembly under Article 96 of the United Nations Charter, requesting the International Court of Justice to render an advisory opinion on the illegality of the use of nuclear weapons."

The Aotearoa/New Zealand Initiative

Meanwhile, in 1986 Falk was invited by the NZ Foundation for Peace Studies to speak on nuclearism and international law. A Labour government had been elected in 1984 with a mandate to outlaw nuclear weapons and propulsion.

Falk not only updated the public on other initiatives to bring nuclear weapons within the law. He encouraged the peace movement to study the ingredients of previous social movements which, at their outset, had seemed impractical and unlikely to succeed. These included the campaigns against slavery, royalism, colonialism and infanticide. He suggested building on the "embryonic" structures that were already in place for global reform, such as the international groups of physicians, lawyers and ecologists who sought arms reductions.

He added: "Another important source to tap is the women's movement with its creative contribution of feminine consciousness. This includes positive images of authority, order and power that do not rest on a hierarchy of violence and patriarchal systems that we have become accustomed to. Similarly we can draw on perspectives on society offered by indigenous peoples of diverse cultures."23

His visit came at a crucial time when peace groups were hoping to take their anti-nuclear policy one step further. Falk suggested that the government use the World Court to clarify its obligations, if any, under the ANZUS Treaty with regard to hosting port visits by US nuclear-powered and armed vessels. Although the government did not take up the suggestion, Falk's ideas alerted some peace campaigners to the idea of challenging the legality of nuclear weapons through an advisory opinion from the World Court.24

A few months later, retired Christchurch magistrate Harold Evans compiled the opinions of six leading international jurists, including Falk, Edward St John, and Christopher Weeramantry (now a World Court judge), into an Open Letter. In March 1987 Evans sent it to the Prime Ministers of Australia and NZ three months before the nuclear-free bill became law. In it he challenged them to sponsor a UN resolution to seek a World Court opinion on "the legality or otherwise of nuclear weaponry". Hawke rejected the idea, but Lange showed interest. Evans followed it up with appeals to all 71 UN member states with diplomatic representation in Canberra and Wellington. Some indicated support.

Within Aotearoa a dialogue with government and officials ensued, strongly backed by the newly-formed Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control (PACDAC). This committee was tasked with advising the government on the implementation of the nuclear-free legislation. Among its members were Dr Robin Briant, Chair of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in NZ, and Kate Dewes. Early in 1988 Evans addressed their IPPNW(NZ) annual general meeting; and later that year a NZ-sponsored resolution supporting the WCP was adopted at IPPNW's World Congress.

In May 1988, Dewes was one of two NGO members of the NZ government delegation to the Third UN Special Session on Disarmament (UNSSOD III) in New York. She had worked on peace issues with Evans since 1979, and organized Falk's Christchurch visit. When addressing the UN on behalf of Aotearoa NGOs, she said: "We strongly urge all nations and peace groups to support a move by jurists in NZ and other countries to have the International Court of Justice give an advisory opinion on whether or not nuclear arms are illegal. The symbolic power of such a ruling would be immense..."

While in New York, she shared Evans' Open Letter with LCNP, IPB representatives and key diplomats from India, Mexico, Sweden and Australia. Her meetings with Rikhi Jaipal (former Indian UN Ambassador and Chair of the Conference on Disarmament), and Swedish Disarmament Ambassador Maj Britt Theorin heralded their critical role in later years.

Jaipal advised that, as early as 1981, Indira Gandhi had looked closely at the illegality question with support from Nagendra Singh (the World Court judge and later its President) and other Indian lawyers. Jaipal said it was vital to get an advisory opinion, and then to build it into a legally binding treaty.25 In later correspondence, he gave astute guidance on the text of the resolution, and how to lobby the UNGA.26

During 1988 PACDAC debated with the government and officials the merits of the idea. However, it lacked the clout to prevail over reactionary foreign affairs officials, many of whom still supported nuclear deterrence.

In March 1989 the new Minister of Disarmament, Fran Wilde, confirmed that the government would not co-sponsor the resolution but would "keep it on the table". PACDAC was reassured that the illegality issue would be included in the updated UN Study on Nuclear Weapons. The Group of Governmental Experts producing this was chaired by Theorin and included NZ's Director of Disarmament. NGOs within the South Pacific region were encouraged to provide inputs to the report. Both Evans and St John submitted vital documentation for the section on illegality.27

Although disappointed by the government's decision, Evans and others were undeterred. They set about mobilizing citizen support among a wide range of groups, as suggested by Falk and Jaipal. Spurred on by the knowledge gained at UNSSOD III that other international initiatives were working along similar lines, they took their cause to Europe.

At its annual conference in Brighton UK in September 1989, the IPB endorsed Evans' strategy. IALANA followed a few weeks later at its World Congress at The Hague. At about the same time Theorin discussed possible co-sponsorship of a UN resolution with Wilde - but Labour lost the 1990 election.

In March 1991 another Aotearoa citizen arrived at the UN in New York, representing NGOs worldwide opposing the Gulf War. Alyn Ware, then a 29 year-old kindergarten teacher and peace educator, approached several UN missions and found strong support for the WCP idea. He was given guidance by Dr Kennedy Graham, a former NZ diplomat who was now Secretary-General of Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA). Costa Rica began redrafting an earlier resolution from Evans, with the intention of co-sponsoring it at the 1992 UNGA. PGA printed articles on the idea by Vallentine28 and Swedish lawyer Stig Gustaffson in their next two newsletters, which went to over 600 MPs in over 40 countries.

Three months later Dewes and IPB Secretary-General Colin Archer found similar support in Geneva missions. The idea was seen as non-discriminatory; supportive of the UN Decade of International Law; it complemented moves for nuclear-free zones in Africa and the Middle East; and it would strengthen efforts to secure a Convention on Prohibition of Use of Nuclear Weapons. However at least 50 states, including some neutral ones, would be needed to co-sponsor the resolution in order to withstand the expected severe pressure from the nuclear weapon states.29

At the same time discussions took place on launching the fledgling project the following year, with IPB joining the other two committed international NGOs, IPPNW and IALANA.

UK: Declarations Of Public Conscience

Encouraged by this support among key countries and a growing number of influential NGOs, Dewes then visited UK where she helped mobilize a strong network already working on the idea. A few months later, Robert Green attended a follow-up meeting in London in October 1991 at which WCP(UK) was launched.

Keith Mothersson, a legal scholar and anti-nuclear activist, pioneered many innovative ideas, including a key aspect of the WCP's success: harnessing the public conscience and the law. He distilled his findings into "From Hiroshima To The Hague", a guide to the WCP, published by the IPB in 1992. He proposed invoking the de Martens clause from the 1907 Hague Convention in the form of an individual Declaration of Public Conscience.30 This idea was developed into a leaflet with a text ready for signature.

MacBride had mentioned the de Martens clause in his Teheran resolution. Following his lobbying, Swedish MPs began referring to it in speeches. Falk and other supportive lawyers took it up, and IALANA incorporated it in their Hague Declaration at their inaugural World Congress in 1989.

The concept of ordinary citizens separately signing personal declarations on a question of international law was novel. Not only did it link the de Martens clause with the custodians of the public conscience for the first time: it also empowered them to exercise it. Only World Court judges can decide the legal status of nuclear weapons; but ordinary citizens now had a way to express whether they think nuclear weapons are right or wrong - and these decisions should be linked.

Moreover, the intention was somehow to present them to the World Court - though this began as just a vague hope, in light of the fact that only governments and UN agencies are entitled to submit evidence to it. Falk encouraged the WCP to try, citing such declarations as quasi-legal evidence of public concern and support. Along with letters of endorsement from NGOs, prominent people and institutions, these would all help to put "psycho-political pressure" on the judges to counter inevitable opposing pressures from the nuclear weapon states - all an accepted part of the juridical process.

WCP(UK) set up a pilot scheme to test public reaction in November 1991. Once people understood what the WCP was, and that this was not just another petition, they began to sign with enthusiasm. The idea quickly spread to countries with active anti-nuclear movements, including Aotearoa, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the US. Declarations have been translated into nearly 40 languages.

The WCP Is Born

Article 96 of the UN Charter states that, in addition to the General Assembly or Security Council, other UN organs and specialized agencies may also request advisory opinions of the Court on legal questions arising within the scope of their activities.

In February 1992 discussions were held in NZ on the next steps for the WCP. Dr Erich Geiringer of IPPNW(NZ) had begun to explore the possibility of getting IPPNW to spearhead a request to the WHO's annual assembly because the doctors could use that forum most effectively. Also Ware approached UNICEF, which was sympathetic but declined involvement.

During the international WCP launch took place in Geneva in May 1992, the Zimbabwe Foreign Minister announced his government's support: the first to do so. It coincided with celebration of the IPB's centenary and the publication of two books. IALANA reinforced Mothersson's WCP guide with a legal memorandum written by Dr Nicholas Grief which summarises the legal case against the threat or use of nuclear weapons.31

An International Steering Committee (ISC) was formed of representatives of the three principal co-sponsoring NGOs (IPB, IPPNW and IALANA) plus the authors. Ware returned to New York as a volunteer with LCNP, now the US affiliate of IALANA, and later became its Director.

The ISC focused on promoting an empowerment plan to help mobilize groups globally in support of the WCP. It began to compile an international list of endorsing organizations, and to approach prominent individuals for their support. By 1994 over 700 organizations had signed on, including many City Councils, Greenpeace International, and the Anglican Communion of Primates; while some 200,000 individual Declarations of Conscience had been collected, plus letters of support from Gorbachev and Archbishop Tutu.

WHO Breakthrough

Just before the May 1992 launch, IPPNW masterminded an attempt to table a resolution in the annual assembly of the WHO. The move failed only because the resolution was not formally on the agenda. However, within weeks IPPNW was able to report that 14 states were prepared to co-sponsor a resolution, and there were indications of enough support from Health Ministers.

Accordingly, the resolution was tabled properly the next year, co-sponsored by 22 states. It asked the World Court: "In view of the health and environmental effects, would the use of nuclear weapons by a State in war or other armed conflict be a breach of its obligations under international law including the WHO Constitution?" Arguments by the NATO nuclear weapon states and their allies that the WHO lacked the competence to ask the question were countered by the fact that the WHO had been investigating the health and environmental effects of nuclear weapons since 1981.

IPPNW fielded a strong lobbying team of Swedish and NZ doctors, including George Salmond, a former NZ Director General of Health. They knew many of the delegates, and how the WHO system worked. They prepared comprehensive background papers, countered misinformation and answered questions as they were raised in committees. Hilda Lini, Vanuatu's Health Minister, proved a successful lobbyist on the inside, encouraging the states under heaviest pressure, and keeping in close touch with the IPPNW team. Her speech, a powerful mix of passion and facts delivered from the point of view of a South Pacific Island woman and mother, apparently swayed the female US Surgeon General. This split the Health and State Department groups in the US delegation, which helped to blunt its counter-lobbying. On 14 May 1993 the resolution was passed by 73 votes to 40, with 10 abstentions. After some delay, the question was received by the Court in September 1993.

The Court invited entitled states to make submissions on the WHO question, allowing them until 20 September 1994 to do so. Thirty-five submissions were received, which the Court's President remarked was an unusually large total and reflected the degree of concern in the international community about the issue.

Indications are that only five non-nuclear states (Australia, Finland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands) made submissions echoing the rejectionist line taken by the NATO nuclear weapon states and Russia (China did not make a submission). Of the remainder, 22 argued that any nuclear weapon use would be illegal, one (Ireland) wanted the question answered, and three (NZ, Japan and Norway) were "on the fence". Submitting states received a copy of every other submission, and were given until 20 June 1995 to comment in writing on them.

WCP Challenges Legality Of Nuclear Deterrence

A major objection to the WHO resolution by the NATO nuclear states, and the Australian and NZ governments, was that the UN was the correct forum for the WCP issue. Accordingly LCNP members approached several UN missions in New York following the WHO success. Led by Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) - 111 of the UN's 185 member states - agreed to table a more ambitious resolution at the 1993 UN disarmament session. This asked the World Court urgently to render its advisory opinion on the following question: "Is the threat or use of nuclear weapons in any circumstance permitted under international law?" In broadening and strengthening the WHO question, it directly challenged the legality of nuclear deterrence doctrine. More than that, the nuclear weapon states correctly perceived it as threatening their privileged status as permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The last week of October 1993 saw a struggle in the UNGA's First Committee. Zimbabwe, backed by a determined group of South Pacific states, lobbied hard, helped by a WCP team which included Lini and Maori elder Pauline Tangiora. The presence of two indigenous women from the South Pacific had a powerful impact on the diplomats of small island states within that region. They treated both women with deep respect because of the senior positions which they held within their tribes/homelands.

Theorin was on the Swedish delegation and played a vital role as the link between the activists and ambassadors - many of whom were long-time personal friends who trusted her opinion. She also wrote to all members of PGA and Women Parliamentarians for Peace, alerting them to the resolution and suggesting parliamentary questions about their government's support for the resolution.

NGO delegations quietly lobbied diplomats in the UN corridors, the Delegates' Lounge and missions. They showed them newspaper articles from Ireland32 and Aotearoa33 reporting probable government support; a supportive letter from the newly elected Canadian Prime Minister; evidence that the Italian Foreign Affairs Committee had passed a binding resolution requiring the government to support the NAM resolution if it got to a vote; and other indications of cracks in the Western line. The NZ and Australian NGOs challenged their diplomats directly about their governments' role in leaning on South Pacific states not to support the resolution.

After some crucial lobbying by Vanuatu, the resolution was introduced reluctantly by the NAM Chair, Indonesia. Peggy Mason, Canada's Disarmament Ambassador, described the reaction: "Hysteria is not too strong a word to describe the nuclear weapon states' point of view around here."34 The US, UK and France sent delegations to many NAM capitals threatening trade and aid if the resolution was not withdrawn. Theorin said: "During my 20 years' experience as a UN delegate, I have never seen such supreme power politics openly being used as during the fall of 1993."35 On 19 November the NAM consensus buckled, and Indonesia announced that action had been deferred. Nonetheless, every UN member government probably now knew about the WCP, and how it threatened the privileged position of the nuclear weapon states.

A WCP ISC meeting in Geneva in May 1994 held out little hope that the NAM would risk further loss of face by trying again that year. Three weeks later NAM Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo decided not just to re-table the resolution, but to put it to a vote. Indications came from New York in September of a struggle within NAM not to falter. Only Benin - under heavy French pressure - decided to oppose it; and the NAM duly re-tabled it in the First Committee on 9 November.

The UK and France enlisted Germany, as President of the European Union at the time, to present a broader front of support for their intense opposition to the resolution, and to diffuse accusations of pressure on NAM capitals. The UK claimed that the resolution risked "being seen as a deliberate attempt to exert pressure over the Court to prejudice its response (to the WHO question)... (it) can do nothing to further global peace and security."36 The French showed signs of hysteria: "It is a blatant violation of the UN Charter. It goes against the law. It goes against reason..."37

The NAM were not deflected. On 18 November 1994 in the First Committee, Morocco tabled a resolution for no action to be taken. This was defeated by 67 votes to 45, with 15 abstentions (including NZ) and 57 states not voting. In the following vote on the WCP resolution, it was adopted by 77 votes to 33, with 21 abstentions and 53 not voting.

Analysis of the voting is interesting. Despite keen awareness that this was the most radical resolution on the UN's disarmament agenda, China did not vote; Ukraine abstained; and the normally compliant Western caucus of non-nuclear states collapsed. By abstaining, Canada and Norway broke ranks with NATO, Japan and Australia with the US, and Ireland with the European Union along with two prospective neutral non-NATO members, Sweden and Austria.

The most serious insubordination, however, was that Aotearoa voted for it. As a Security Council member at the time and the only Western state to do so, this undid at a stroke the progress made by the US to lure the one such state with nuclear-free legislation back under Washington's control. The government had been under intense pressure from the peace movement and politicians. MPs persisted with questions in Parliament, forced two snap debates and issued press statements. Eight government MPs publicly supported the WCP, while PGA in NZ and Australia unanimously supported it. Ministers were flooded with letters, faxes and postcards; and MPs visited by constituents. Indeed, the government conceded that public opinion forced it to vote for the resolution and withstand Western pressure to abstain. There had been frequent public visits by both US and UK high-level military and diplomatic personnel during 1994.

The common factor in this breakdown in Western cohesion was the strength of public support for the WCP. The work to collect signed Declarations of Public Conscience and other endorsements had borne fruit. However, a decisive factor was probably a carefully focused faxing campaign to capitals of supportive states. In the run-up to the vote, several hundred individual letter-writers worldwide were mobilized to fax Prime Ministers personally with expressions of gratitude, and encouraging them to withstand any coercion by he nuclear states. In one instance, a UN ambassador who had just received new instructions to abstain because of pressure was shown a letter from his Prime Minister replying to a WCP correspondent which stated that his government's support for the resolution would stand. The ambassador decided to ignore his latest instructions.

Resolutions adopted by the First Committee go to the General Assembly for confirmation in a final plenary session. Normally this is only a formality, and the voting pattern shows little change. However, a UK representative told Ware that the NATO nuclear weapon states intended to "kill" the WCP resolution.

The WCP responded by launching a new faxing campaign, adjusted to capitals of supportive states which had abstained or not voted. It was vital not merely to prevent a reversal, but to minimise erosion of the vote. The Aotearoa government, for example, revealed that it was under immense pressure to abstain this time.

In the plenary session on 15 December 1994, the NATO nuclear weapon states tried again with a resolution for no action to be taken. It was defeated, but by a margin which was more than halved, from 22 votes to 10. France then tried to have the word "urgently" removed: but the motion was defeated by just five votes. This was crucial because, without it, consideration of the question by the Court could have been delayed, perhaps for years. Moreover, the process at the Court was strengthened by enabling the Court to consider both questions simultaneously. In the final vote, the resolution was adopted by 78 votes to 43, with 38 abstentions and 25 not voting. The majority only fell by nine, and the "yes" total actually increased by one. China did not vote, which was embarrassing for the other nuclear states. Apparently it even considered supporting the resolution, but backed off when its UN mission was advised that "threat" implied possession.

William Epstein, a distinguished disarmament adviser at the UN, described it as "the most exciting night in the UN for thirty years." Yet there was almost no coverage in the major Western newspapers and other news media despite strenuous efforts by the WCP.

Next Steps At The World Court

Because of the word "urgently", the World Court received the UNGA resolution from the UN Secretary-General within two working days. On 2 February 1995 the Court announced that it had asked for new submissions by 20 June 1995, and written comments on other states' submissions by 20 September 1995.38

28 states made submissions. The smaller total (35 made submissions on the WHO question) reflects its greater sensitivity. However, 8 new states made submissions, all assessed to be supportive of the WCP. Aotearoa announced that this time it had made a substantive submission, probably arguing for illegality. With Australia failing to make a submission, the WCP achieved a probable majority of 19 to 8 plus one (Japan) still on the fence.

The Court will consider the WHO and UNGA questions separately but simultaneously. Public hearings - called "oral proceedings" - will be held from 30 October until 15 November 1995, and advisory opinions are expected early in 1996.

The World Court And Citizens' Evidence

On 10 June 1994, the World Court Registrar received a citizens' delegation representing over 700 NGOs which have endorsed the WCP. The delegation presented a unique collection of documents, including:

Accepting these into the Court's archive, the Registrar undertook to draw the judges' attention to them when considering the questions. He took care to point out that only entitled states and UN agencies are allowed to submit evidence to the Court; and that therefore these documents had not been accepted as legal evidence. Nonetheless, it is believed that this is the first time that the Court has accepted material from a citizens' delegation. It indicates that the Court acknowledges the strength of public concern worldwide about the issue. Also a precedent has been set for NGOs in future cases.

The Unique Nature Of The WCP

The WCP is not a conventional NGO. A loose umbrella network, its international core comprises an unprecedented, non-hierarchical coalition of IPB, IPPNW and IALANA. These respected NGOs are working on a common cause with short term, achievable goals. They are supported by leading members of society such as doctors, lawyers (including judges), politicians (including ex-prime ministers), Nobel Peace Prize winners, and religious leaders (including Archbishops). An important reason for such wide backing is a sense that this is a project which might be really effective. Also using the legal arm of the UN is not only novel and exciting, but places opposition to nuclear weapons on the right side of the law.

Unlike earlier initiatives which were Eurocentric and male-dominated, the WCP is truly international. There has been a strong input from African, Latin American, Asian and South Pacific countries. Although the ISC core is Western, white and middle class, it has links with other regions, and women and indigenous peoples play an important part in the network.

The ISC was able to mobilize movements in key "middle" (non-nuclear but Western-orientated) countries such as Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Aotearoa, Canada, Japan and Australia. This helped to build and then sustain support within the NAM, and frighten the Western bloc. In Japan a draft submission on the WHO question was leaked to WCP campaigners because it echoed the nuclear weapon states' line that nuclear weapon use might be legal in some circumstances. After a public outcry, a revised text was submitted which acknowledged that the use of nuclear weapons would violate "the humanitarian principle upon which international law is based."39

Factors common to WCP success in these "middle" countries were accessibility to key decision-makers and politicians; media access and interest; and friendships between politicians and leading members of IPB, IPPNW and IALANA.

Within the NAM, support was gained from visits to UN missions of Latin American, African, Arab, Asian and South Pacific states. Strong anti-nuclear sentiment in the latter region was translated into a feeling that the WCP offered a way for small states to confront the nuclear states successfully. In addition, visits were made to the South Pacific Forum in 1992, and key capitals in Latin America. Visits by WCP(UK) to London Embassies/High Commissions proved fruitful: following one, Ukraine was the first state to make a submission to the Court on the WHO question, which encouraged others.40

Meanwhile, a public education campaign was conducted using the limited resources and energy available. Apart from promoting Declarations of Public Conscience, parallel WCP launches to focus media attention were organized in UK, Aotearoa, Canada, India, Malaysia, and Zimbabwe. The ISC compiled a register of prominent endorsers which was used for publicity. Public meetings, media events and interviews helped raise awareness. In UK, where a more formal coordinating committee had been formed of representatives from the most active NGOs, supporters were encouraged to establish local WCP groups. Public ceremonies to hand over Declarations to prominent politicians or officials were arranged in several countries: these included an international handover in New York in October 1993 to the UN Head of Disarmament, and then at The Hague before delivering them to the Court the following June.

Use was made of national parliamentary systems: keeping governments under pressure by frequent questions; snap debates in the more responsive systems; meetings with foreign affairs select committees, key ministers, and leaders of political parties. A major effort was made to gain public support from MPs, who were asked to send it in writing to the Prime Minister. As mentioned earlier, PGA's help was important. Even some sympathetic NZ government MPs asked questions of their own ministers.

The lobby teams at the WHO's 1993 assembly and UNGA forced a degree of accountability from politicians and even diplomats. In 1988, NZ Foreign Minister Russell Marshall was reprimanded by his Prime Minister David Lange for making a speech in Geneva supporting nuclear deterrence. In his defence Marshall said: "I tried to be all things to all people...was I thinking I could get away with it because people at home will be too busy to see it?"41 Activists in the UN can feed government statements back to colleagues around the world. So, when the NZ Foreign Minister denies in Parliament that a WCP resolution is about to be tabled in the UN, and the Opposition party produces a copy, there is considerable embarrassment and accountability.

In Aotearoa the WCP has used the Official Information Act to request release of ministry briefing papers on voting tactics in the UN, and the text of the submission to the World Court. If denied, there is recourse to the Ombudsman.

The WCP And The World Court

There is widespread ignorance, even among politicians and the judiciary, of the possibilities and implications of the existence of the World Court. Its judgments are sparsely reported in the media. Little attention is given to it in schools and universities, and hardly any outside law faculties. The style and content of literature on the Court and its work are often beyond the reach of the ordinary citizen.

Having been obliged to find out about it, WCP supporters tried to correct this serious neglect of the UN's judicial body. Regular contact was established with Court officials. From this it became clear that NGOs have an important role to interpret the Court's work and make it accessible to the general public by speaking and writing about it.

Following an appeal by the UK judge and former President of the Court Sir Robert Jennings, a small Scottish group published a simple introduction to the Court in a booklet called "Going To Court Not War", having first consulted the Court's Public Information Officer about the text.42 It cites the WCP as an example of how the Court can be used to achieve "peace through law".43

The UK is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council to have accepted the Court's jurisdiction for contentious cases. Of the 35 states which made submissions on the WHO question, 19 do not accept jurisdiction. However, this is not relevant to an advisory opinion, which is not a contentious case between states which have accepted jurisdiction, but is a determination of what the law is in relation to the question.

On the other hand, Lange was critical of the jurisdiction issue. Interviewed recently about the WCP, he said: "I felt we had got the thing back to front: until you had a forum which was non-withdrawable from, and a forum which had the power to adjudicate on an issue, that we were going to be led up the garden path... I would prefer that the first project was a World Court project (ie strengthen the World Court) and the second was a nuclear issue.

"If the Court refuses jursidiction, on the discretion which is vested in it, then that will have been worth the effort because small nations will be appalled and will assume the Court is not prepared to do anything which could get any of its members into major strife with major powers. That will lead again to revisiting what it means to be a member of the international community."44

Another aspect where the WCP is raising awareness is the gender composition of the Court. No woman had been a World Court judge until Rosalyn Higgins replaced Sir Robert Jennings in July 1995. Some IPB Executive women had written to the UN Secretary-General and other UN organs about this, discussed it with women judges, and alerted a US group of women lawyers in 1993. Also IALANA wrote a paper expressly encouraging the nomination of women for the Court.

It was also raised in the 1994 UN report "Gender and the Agenda for Peace".45 The introduction states that the Expert Group Meeting (EGM) - again chaired by Theorin - pursued the goal of "defining strategies to increase the participation of women in all aspects related to conflict resolution and peace within the UN and at national, regional and international levels." It went on to include in its recommendations that the next Secretary-General should be a woman; and that "states should increase the percentage of women participating in all UN fora and activities concerned with peace and security. By 1996 delegations should be 30% women, by 1998 40% women, and by the year 2000 50% women...Women should be represented at all levels, especially the highest levels." This is clearly relevant to the World Court.

The Court is under-utilized for advisory opinions. The UN Secretary-General raised this in "An Agenda for Peace". He stated: "I recommend that the Secretary-General be authorized, pursuant to article 96, paragraph 2 of the Charter, to take advantage of the advisory competence of the Court and that other United Nations organs that already enjoy such authorization turn to the Court more frequently for advisory opinions."46

WCP Effect On UN System

The authors' experience of lobbying at the 1993 UNGA allowed them to witness first-hand the apparently routine behaviour by the US, UK and France in intimidating the overwhelming majority of non-nuclear states into deferring action on the WCP resolution. This revealed how such abuse of their privileged status as permanent members of the Security Council has corrupted and emasculated the work of the UN. There is abundant evidence that they repeated this at the 1994 UNGA.

The WCP disturbed them for two main reasons. First, they would have to argue in the World Court, in public hearings, that nuclear deterrence is illegal for all but themselves. Far more serious was the threat posed by the WCP to the legality of the unwritten qualification for a permanent Security Council seat - namely, the possession of nuclear weapons - and with it the status of the five declared nuclear weapon states. This is especially sensitive for the UK and France, whose economic weakness means that they have only their nuclear prop to sustain membership.

Confirmation by the World Court that nuclear weapon threat or use is illegal would discredit, and in fact upend, this qualification. Though only advisory and unenforceable, such an advisory opinion would also give nuclear weapons the same stigma as chemical and biological weapons - which are shunned by responsible military professionals.

Hence a successful outcome for the WCP would effectively release reform of the Security Council from the nuclear weapon factor. It would also draw attention to a longstanding concern of UN member states that the Security Council sometimes ignores or even violates international law. Indeed, some UN reformers, including a number of distinguished lawyers like Falk, argue that the Council should be answerable to the World Court. On 13 October 1994 in his UNGA address the President of the World Court, Mohammed Bedjaoui, urged a wider role for the Court in the UN system. The Algerian Ambassador then called for a "revitalisation" of the Court's function within a revised Charter.47

In 1986 World Court President Singh described the functioning of the UN machinery as a three-wheeled mechanism of legislature (UNGA), executive (Security Council) and judiciary (World Court).48 As in the governance of nations, unless the legislative and executive wheels accept the authority and ensure the independence of the judiciary, their actions may not be based on law and there can be no confidence that justice is being done.

The WCP has also highlighted another indication of the excessive influence of the permanent members of the Security Council. Although there is no entitlement to membership on the part of any country, the World Court has almost always included judges of the nationality of each permanent member.49 There would appear to be a need for the Court to resolve this anomaly if it wishes to be seen to be free of manipulation.

Evidence of the urgent need for the Court to assert its role with respect to the Security Council is in a US State Department report on a summit meeting between James Baker and Edward Shevardnadze in 1989. In a section headed "International Court of Justice", they announced proposals for "mutually agreed conditions" on how the Court should be used. One of these was "excluding from the jurisdiction of the Court certain categories of issues that are widely recognized to be highly sensitive to states and inappropriate for resolution by judicial action in the absence of the express consent of the states involved." They also agreed to take the discussion to other permanent members of the Security Council in order to come up with a common approach to the Court that other countries can eventually endorse.50

In sum, the pace and direction of reform of the UN system could be heavily influenced by the outcome of the WCP.

Participatory Democracy In The UN

One of the most encouraging aspects of the WCP has been how it has empowered ordinary citizens to learn about the UN, and then to take part in the many ways of using the system and influencing governments to achieve the objective.

The other side of this has been the surprisingly cooperative attitude of most non-nuclear states' officials and diplomats. Indeed, they have tended to rely on the WCP to take the initiative and to brief them on legal and procedural questions. This in turn has stimulated WCP campaigners to do their homework in order to build trust in their competence and judgement.

This generates real hope of participatory democracy at both government and UN level. The UN becomes a place where "We the peoples" have a place and a feeling of acceptance within it. Also it goes some way towards reflecting the UN Secretary-General's belief that NGOs have a major role to play in the democratization process.51


At the time of writing (September 1995) the World Court is preparing to deliberate on the WHO and UNGA questions. Whatever the outcome, the WCP has already fuelled the nuclear weapon debate while raising awareness of the UN's under-used legal machinery. Unlike previous campaigns, it has introduced a legal dimension which, supported by expressions of public conscience, cannot easily be brushed aside by the nuclear weapon states. Evidence for this can be found in the strenuous efforts by the US, UK and France to derail it. The Court's unprecedented acceptance of citizens' evidence suggests that it acknowledges the strength of public concern, and their role in bringing the issue before it.

The WCP was fortunate. It caught the post-Cold War revival of disarmament momentum, including agreement over the Chemical Weapons Convention and progress towards a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The break-up of the USSR forced the nuclear weapon states to acknowledge that nuclear proliferation was the greatest threat to world security. Doubts grew about the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence. The acrimonious review and extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and subsequent Chinese and French testing, kept the nuclear issue at the top of the international agenda and played into the WCP's hands. Also it attracted certain key players at crucial moments, on which its breakthroughs depended.

The loose umbrella network of NGOs with an informal steering group seems to have been effective, and offers flexible applications. The campaign has helped to empower ordinary citizens to learn about, and then use, the UN system to influence governments.