We are thrilled to announce that the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), with which we collaborated during the negotiations of a nuclear weapon ban treaty, received the Nobel Peace Prize today. The honor reflects international recognition of the humanitarian approach to disarmament, a movement that strives to minimize civilian suffering from inhumane weapons.

Costa Rican Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez, president of the negotiations, and Nobel Laureate Setsuko Thorlow, survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, embrace after adoption of the nuclear weapon ban treaty.

Over the past decade, ICAN has changed the course of nuclear disarmament by shifting the focus from national security to the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences these weapons cause.  Their work and the invaluable advocacy of survivors of nuclear weapons use in conflict and testing helped lead to an international ban on the weapons this summer.

The International Human Rights Clinic joined ICAN and UK-based disarmament organization Article 36 in the efforts for the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  Supervisors Bonnie Docherty and Anna Crowe, along with a team of four students, provided legal support to the campaign during the treaty negotiations at the United Nations in New York.  They also advocated successfully for the inclusion of obligations to assist victims and remediate the environment harmed.

More than 120 countries adopted the treaty in July. Fifty-three have signed the treaty since it opened for signature last month. In so doing, those countries have committed to abiding by the object and purpose of the instrument.

Civil society will now turn its attention to urging more states to sign and ratify the ban treaty. The Clinic in particular will work for strong interpretation and implementation of its provisions.

In their statement announcing the award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wrote, “It is [our] firm conviction . . .  that ICAN, more than anyone else, has in the past year given the efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons a new direction and new vigour.”

The committee also praised ICAN for filling a legal gap. Before the treaty, the other weapons of mass destruction—chemical and biological weapons—as well as several indiscriminate conventional weapons had been banned. Yet there were no global restrictions on the use of the world’s deadliest arms.

Although the nuclear weapons states and most of NATO boycotted the negotiations, the treaty and the Nobel Peace Prize highlight the value of declaring nuclear weapons to be illegal as well as immoral.  They also increase the stigma against the weapons and show that progress in nuclear disarmament is possible.

The “positive obligations” advocacy team, including IHRC students and supervisors, moments after adoption of the nuclear weapon ban treaty on July 7, 2017.

The Clinic has long been involved with humanitarian disarmament.  It contributed to the negotiations of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions and is currently working to ban or strengthen international law on fully autonomous weapons, incendiary weapons, and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

At a time of heightened tensions between nuclear powers, ICAN’s well-deserved recognition reinforces our conviction that humanitarian disarmament is more essential and achievable than ever. We look forward to continuing this vital work.


The Clinic team consisted of Bonnie Docherty, associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection, Clinical Instructor Anna Crowe, Carina Bentata Gryting, JD ’18, Molly Doggett, JD ’17, Lan Mei, JD ’17, and Alice Osman, LLM ’17. For the students’ impressions of the negotiations, see this post.