African countries can help ban nuclear weapons - ICRC

African countries have the power to force the rest of the world to ban nuclear weapons – if almost all of them adhered to the treaty on this.

The International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC) Head of Regional Delegation for Southern Africa Vincent Cassard urged African officials at the start of a four-day seminar on Tuesday on international humanitarian law at the Department for International Relations to lobby their governments to ratify the treaty on the comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons, which opened for signature almost a year ago, on September 20.

“The ICRC’s position has been consistent over the last half a century: the use of nuclear weapons would never comply with rules of international humanitarian law,” he said. “The consequences would render humanitarian assistance impossible.”

Ten countries have so far ratified the treaty, but 50 ratifications are needed for the treaty to come into effect. The African Union has 55 member states.

“In the lead up to the conclusion of the treaty, African voices were unequivocal and united in pushing for the ban of nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that South Africa had been the only in the world to voluntarily relinquish its nuclear programme. South Africa is in the process of ratifying the treaty.

Cassard told News24 even small countries like eSwatini (previously Swaziland) and Lesotho had a lot of power, because their ratification carried the same weight as that of large countries.

He said although southern Africa was largely peaceful, the focus of the international humanitarian law seminar was on peacekeeping operations, such as those in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which involved military help from neighbouring countries.

Participating officials had to ponder questions on whether it was legally acceptable to torture soldiers for information about secret military bases, and on when to attend to wounded soldiers from the enemy side.  

The seminar ends on Friday.

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