Gem Romuld, ICAN
Earlier this year the Quaker Peace and Social Justice Fund provided funds to ICAN (International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons) to fund a delegate to the UN negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban treaty. In response, ICAN has provided the following report.
Many have dismissed the idea of a treaty to outlaw the ultimate weapon of mass destruction as idealistic. Seventy-two years since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this idea has become a reality. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted by 122 nations at the United Nations on 7 July, 2017. The Treaty outlaws the possession, stockpiling, development, testing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. It is a powerful document, establishing a new international norm that rejects any role for nuclear weapons in our world.
Central to the Treaty’s goal of total elimination is an awareness of the totally catastrophic impacts of nuclear weapons. The intergovernmental conferences that led to the ban treaty negotiations crystallised our understanding of what the weapon is designed to do. Nations have heard the testimonies of Japanese hibakusha and people impacted by nuclear testing in awful detail. The experience of Indigenous people in Australia and across the Pacific provides ample evidence to pursue abolition with great urgency.
With the support of the Quaker Peace and Social Justice Fund, a powerful voice from the Marshall Islands was able to attend the ban treaty negotiating conference in July. Abacca Anjain-Maddison was born on Rongelap, an island that was evacuated after the 1954 US nuclear test on nearby Bikini Atoll due to widespread contamination. The Rongelapese were not evacuated until three days after the bomb. The physical effects of nuclear radiation and the ongoing displacement of the Marshall Islanders are common elements in Abacca’s testimonies.
Abacca is a former Senator of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and is the President of Iju in Ean, a non-profit organisation owned by Rongelapese women. While in New York, Abacca liaised with Pacific Island delegations, participated in media conferences and delivered a final address after the Treaty’s adoption on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
Abacca said to the assembled delegates, international media and campaigners,
For those in the Pacific and around the globe who have suffered from nuclear weapons, this treaty has special meaning.
We are overjoyed that the international community has at last acknowledged what we have always known: that nuclear weapons are abhorrent and immoral.
The new Treaty acknowledges the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons activities on Indigenous peoples worldwide. It also contains provisions compelling states parties to assist victims of nuclear use and testing, and to take measures to remediate contaminated environments.
Pacific Governments have played a pivotal role in achieving the Treaty. The Australian Government’s boycott of the negotiating conference has made us increasingly isolated from our regional neighbours.
Our world remains threatened by the 15,000 nuclear weapons that are still held between nine nations. More than $100 billion is spent each year on maintaining and upgrading these deadly arsenals. The new Treaty is not an end in itself, but a powerful tool to apply pressure on states to reject nuclear weapons and disarm. The Treaty stigmatises the weapon and sets a new global standard, to which all nations will be held accountable.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will open for signature on 20 September 2017. We must advocate for all nations to sign on and pursue the Treaty’s goal; the total abolition of nuclear weapons. As Abacca reminded us when the Treaty was adopted, “We must not stop until we have eliminated nuclear weapons completely and forever.”