Statement at the Thematic Discussion on Conventional Weapons
in the First Committee of the 78th Session
of the United Nations General Assembly
New York, 24 October 2023
At the outset, my delegation recalls that all States Parties of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) share the obligation “to pursue negotiations in good faith […] on a treaty on general and complete disarmament”.Reaffirming this objective has become ever more imperative amid the rapid, global proliferation of armaments.
Most concerningly, the war in Ukraine has featured the widespread use of indiscriminate weaponry, namely anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. The Holy See calls for the immediate cessation of the use of such weapons, which endanger civilians, especially children, and contaminate our common home.
As Pope Francis has stressed, “concern for the moral implications of nuclear warfare must not be allowed to overshadow the increasingly urgent ethical problems raised by the use in contemporary warfare of so-called ‘conventional weapons’, which should be used for defensive purposes only and not directed to civilian targets”. Indeed, the trail of devastation left by conventional weapons necessitates renewed action to limit their further spread, increase transparency on existing stockpiles and ensure that any use complies with international humanitarian law.
In undertaking such goals, the international community must always place the inherent dignity of the human person at the center. In this regard, the Holy See renews support for the Program of Action (POA) to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, in which States “determined […] to enhance the respect for life” and looks forward to further progress at the POA’s Fourth Review Conference next year.
Similarly, my delegation supports the Secretary-General’s call for negotiations “to conclude, by 2026, of a legally binding instrument to prohibit lethal autonomous weapons systems that function without human control or oversight.” In the interim, the Holy See urges all States to refrain from developing such weapons, which can never be morally responsible subjects and violate the dictates of public conscience.
As armed conflict increasingly takes place in densely populated towns and cities, the use of explosive weaponry often proves indiscriminate, with unacceptable casualties among noncombatants and destruction of infrastructure crucial to the survival of civilian populations. In response, the Holy See appreciates the adoption of the Political Declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Dublin last November. The Holy See thanks the Government of Ireland for its leadership in this endeavor and hopes that the declaration will shift military operations from a paradigm of collateral damage to one of intended protection, thereby minimizing the loss of life.
In closing, allow me to echo Pope Francis’s message to the Security Council in June: “from the economic point of view, war is often more enticing than peace, inasmuch as it promotes profit, but always for a few and at the expense of the wellbeing of entire populations. The money earned from arms sales is thus money soiled with innocent blood. It takes more courage to renounce easy profits for the sake of keeping peace than to sell ever more sophisticated and powerful weapons. It takes more courage to seek peace than to wage war.”
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
 NPT Treaty Text, Art. VI.
 Pope Francis, Message to Mark the Conference on “Pacem in Terris” Organized by the Academy of Social Sciences, 12 September 2023.
 Report of the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, A/CONF.192/15, New York, 9-20 July 2001, 7.
 United Nations, Our Common Agenda Policy Brief 9: A New Agenda for Peace, July 2023.
 Pope Francis, Address to the Security Council of the United Nations, 14 June 2023.