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ICAN, in Vienna, calls for negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons

December 8, 2014

More than 150 states gather in Vienna for global conference on nuclear weapons

In a demonstration of overwhelming support from the international community, representatives from more than 150 states are gathering in Vienna, Austria for the third international conference to examine the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.

Prior to the government talks, more than 500 activists assembled in the biggest gathering of civil society on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

“We are closer than we have ever been to starting negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons”, said Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. “We are confident that governments will find the courage to embark on a diplomatic process to develop a new international treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons,” Fihn said.

Previous conferences of this process held in Norway and Mexico concluded that there could be no adequate response if one or more nuclear weapons were to be detonated, either intentionally or by accident.

These global talks have represented a collective reframing exercise that has fundamentally changed the way nuclear weapons are discussed internationally.

The Vienna meeting will be the first time that an intergovernmental conference will have a focus on survivors of nuclear testing, who will testify about the long-term effects of nuclear explosions on human health. Vienna will also be the first time that states comprehensively address the gap in international law whereby nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not subject to an international ban treaty.

“The evidence presented during this process so far has been overwhelming. The impact of nuclear weapons is even worse than we previously understood and the risk of their use is even greater than governments have admitted,” said Thomas Nash, a representative of ICAN and director of a UK-based weapons monitoring NGO, Article 36. “We expect states to respond to this evidence by launching a process towards a ban on nuclear weapons by the time of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki next August,” Nash added.

Of the 150 states that will participate in the Vienna conference, nuclear-armed states such as the United Kingdom and the United States that have previously boycotted talks in this process will participate alongside India and Pakistan.

“Even those states that dismissed these conferences as a “distraction” only a few months ago have changed their minds and are coming to Vienna to discuss the unacceptable consequences of their nuclear weapons. Nobody can now ignore this humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons. It must be the starting point for all discussions on nuclear weapons in the future,” said Ray Acheson of ICAN and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

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The Austria conference is the latest step in a process that has changed the way nuclear weapons are discussed at the international level. Since 2010, when states parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty recognized “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons,” a new narrative has emerged in which the actual effects of these weapons are the basis for renewed actions to address them. The Red Cross movement, United Nations relief agencies, civil society and the majority of the world’s nations have endorsed this humanitarian initiative. In October, 155 states joined a statement by New Zealand at the United Nations noting that “the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons must underpin all approaches and efforts towards nuclear disarmament.”

Among civil society representatives that will address the Conference in Vienna, atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima (“Hibakusha”) Setsuko Thurlow, and for the first time several atomic testing survivors including Karipbek Kuyukov, will provide a testimony on the experience surviving nuclear exposure. Renowned author of “Command and Control” Eric Schlosser and former US military officer Bruce Blair will address nuclear weapons risks, miscalculations and accidents. Camille Francois from Harvard Law School Berkman Center for Internet and Society and Columbia University will discuss the difficulties of securing nuclear facilities from cyber threats. ICRC President Peter Maurer and Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz will introduce the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

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