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IPPNW’s message at the heart of Oslo conference

March 4, 2013

The international conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons has opened in Oslo. The first session on the immediate consequences of nuclear weapons detonations is coming to a close as I write this, with speaker after speaker reiterating the message that IPPNW has been delivering for more than 30 years: that the consequences of nuclear weapons use and nuclear war would be unimaginably catastrophic; that not only do we lack the capacity to mount a medical and humanitarian response to the victims of nuclear detonations, but that any attempt to prepare such a response capacity is infeasible; and that the only appropriate and responsible course of action is prevention.

We heard this from Espen Barth Eide, the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, who opened the conference by establishing these three themes as the the focal points of the conference program. We heard it from the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, who recounted the ICRC’s experience following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and who noted that decades of subsequent Red Cross studies had come to the same conclusion: that the use of nuclear weapons would overwhelm existing disaster response resources, and that building an effective response infrastructure would be impossible.

We heard it from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, who said that UNHCR had excluded nuclear weapons use from its disaster planning, because there was no point in trying to prepare for an event that catastrophic. We also heard it from Rashid Khalikov, the director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

While this is an intergovernmental conference, with 132 States in attendance, civil society is participating actively, and ICAN has organized a delegation of some 50 people, including a number of IPPNW members, who will be making formal comments (“interventions,” in diplomatic parlance) in each session and interacting with the State delegations throughout the next two days.

A new ICAN video was screened during the opening session, and has already been the subject of comments from the floor. Although the focus of this conference is the humanitarian impact of the weapons themselves, the early comments from State delegations are already making the transition to the need for action. They are expressing their outrage at the fact that the threat still exists; their frustration with the nuclear-weapon states (and the deliberate absence of the P5 from the conference); and the need to complete the task of ridding the world of these weapons.

As I write this, a delegate from Zambia is making the links between the humanitarian dangers posed by nuclear weapons and the need for a global ban on their possession, stockpiling and use. She was one of several to make the same point. For those of us who have wondered for some weeks whether participants in the conference would shy away from making these connections in Oslo, this is an exciting development.

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