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Africa: Nuclear weapons free zone enters into force
September-October 2009

The African Nuclear Weapons Free Zone or Pelindaba Treaty was signed at Cairo on April 11, 1996 and entered into force on July 15, 2009, after being ratified by Burundi, making the number of ratifications the 28 required for entry into force of the treaty. The following is an excerpt from this article by Liviu Horovitz, with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

“In the aftermath of French testing in Algeria, the UN General Assembly adopted in 1961 a resolution calling for a zone free of nuclear weapons in Africa. Three decades later, after South Africa’s accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Organization of African Unity established a Joint Group of Experts to draft the treaty text….

“The Pelindaba Treaty covers the entire African continent, as well as the surrounding islands, and establishes a legally binding obligation to not only refrain from developing, producing, or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons, but also to not test, allow, assist, or encourage testing, dump radioactive waste, or station nuclear weapons on the territory of any of the member states of the treaty. In addition, the Treaty commits its parties to apply the highest standard of security and physical protection of nuclear material, facilities, and equipment to prevent theft and unauthorized use, as well as prohibits armed attacks against nuclear installations within the zone. Over the last 13 years, all 52 African nations have signed the Pelindaba Treaty, while 28 African nations ratified. With similar treaties already in force in South America (Treaty of Tlatelolco), the South Pacific (Treaty of Rarotonga), Southeast Asia (Treaty of Bangkok), and Antarctica (Antarctic Treaty), the entire Southern hemisphere is now a zone free of nuclear weapons – an immense success and a great opportunity for further positive steps for Africa in particular, and the international community at large….

“The Pelindaba Treaty’s entry into force requires that a Conference of all Parties be convened as soon as possible by the African Union to establish the way forward. Steps including the establishment of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE), the ratification of the Treaty’s protocols, and the wider ratification process in the remaining 24 countries represent both challenges and opportunities for Africa’s policy makers….

“Due to both political opposition and lack of governance, some of the remaining 24 ratifications are likely to be difficult to acquire in the short term. For example, Cairo’s primary concerns are Israel’s nuclear status and Iran’s nuclear intentions. Egypt has gradually conditioned its willingness to take any additional arms control steps on Israel’s NPT accession. Consequently, Egypt is not a party to either the chemical or the biological weapons conventions, does not adhere to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, and has not ratified the Pelindaba Treaty.

“Finally, the Pelindaba Treaty remains unique by linking regional and international organizations to ensure complete regional nuclear disarmament; the treaty requires the dismantlement and destruction of any nuclear explosive device or nuclear weapons production facility under IAEA and AFCONE verification prior to the Treaty’s entry into force. South Africa’s renunciation and complete dismantlement of its nuclear arsenal at the beginning of the 1990s and Libya’s 2006 renouncement of all weapons of mass destruction were vital steps in this process of entry into force. The Pelindaba Treaty thus serves as an important example of the promise of NWFZs as an approach for promoting both nonproliferation and disarmament.”

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