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Actually banning nuclear weapons

March 28, 2017

Sue Coleman-Haseldine (r) and Setsuko Thurlow prepare to address the ban treaty negotiations at the UN

Ban treaty negotiations day 2:

ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn captured the spirit of the day during our debriefing meeting, when she said “Today it felt like we made the transition from arguing that we need a ban treaty to actually banning nuclear weapons.”

That transition was evident during the first series of statements about substantive elements of the treaty. The first topic of discussion was principles and objectives. Nearly 30 States spoke about the importance of the preambular language of the treaty, with a clear consensus that it must emphasize the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, with reference to the evidence and conclusions of the three HINW conferences in Oslo, Nayarit, and Vienna, and clearly condemn nuclear weapons as incompatible with international humanitarian law.

Austria has provided important leadership throughout the process leading to the negotiations.

Ambassador Thomas Hajnoczi of Austria, for example, said the the preamble should focus on “the objective of achieving and maintaining a nuclear weapon free world. He added that “the need for a prohibition is firmly rooted in the globally recognized concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of, and risks related to the mere existence of nuclear weapons.”

Ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko of South Africa said the preamble “must include the key principles of International Humanitarian Law,” and “must recognise the destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons, which constitute a threat to human survival. It needs to take into account the humanitarian consequences of the development, testing and use of nuclear weapons and associated risks, including their socio-economic impact which will be primarily borne primarily by women and affect future generations.”

Ambassador Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota of Brazil said “The humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons not only assail the conscience of humankind, but are also contrary to the rules of international law, including humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

Another frequent theme of the statements was the importance of recognizing the victims of nuclear weapons, especially the Hibakusha and the victims of nuclear testing. Maria Ongra, First Secretary of the Marshall Islands, said that “The Marshall Islands has a unique perspective on this issue—having suffered the devastating impacts of 67 nuclear weapons tests, between 1946 and 1958, during its status as a UN Trust Territory. The lasting death, disease, environmental devastation and cultural disruption are not distant history but
contemporary challenges.”

Many delegations brought up the need to ensure that the treaty properly recognizes the existing body of international law and international humanitarian law relating to nuclear weapons, and that the treaty complement and reinforce existing nuclear weapons agreements, particularly the NPT and the CTBT.

Ambassador Jorge Lomonaco of Mexico said the treaty should not go beyond the mandate established by the General Assembly; that it is a prohibition, not a disarmament treaty; and that it needs to be seen as a simple but effective step toward “construction of a complex architecture for a world free of nuclear weapons.”

ICAN had its first opportunity to address the conference just before the lunch break and, as she has on previous occasions, Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow made an impassioned appeal for a treaty that “can and will change the world.” She fearlessly condemned the Japanese government for refusing to participate in the negotiations. Setsuko received an enormous, well deserved ovation.

Tilman Ruff speaks about health impacts of nuclear testing in the Pacific.

During a side event on the victims of nuclear testing in the Pacific, co-sponsored by ICAN Australia and IPPNW, co-president Tilman Ruff spoke about “radioactive racism” that continues to this day in the neglect of victims and the environment, as evidenced by “a legacy of cancer and chronic illness, displacement, and loss of cultural identity.”

Indigenous Australian nuclear test survivor, Sue Coleman-Haseldine talked about the little known health and environmental problems around the Maralinga test site and the threats from new proposals to host medium and high-level waste dumps on indigenous lands.

Available statements from day two can be found on the Reaching Critical Will website.

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