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Civil Society Rejoices at the New UN Treaty Marking the Beginning of the End of Nuclear Age

By Ramesh Jaura

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – When the United Nations member states adopted on July 7, 2017 a legally-binding treaty banning nuclear weapons and prohibiting a full range of related activities, it was a historic and highly emotional moment not only for Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica, president of the UN conference. It was also a moment of profound rejoicing for a diverse range of civil society organisations (CSOs).

Twenty-five years after UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali opened the doors for the CSOs and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to contribute to the success of the Earth Summit in June 1992 that stressed the inexorable link between environment and development, the CSOs have successfully exercised their ‘soft power’ to help usher in a world free of nuclear weapons.| JAPANESESPANISH

It was not surprising therefore that conference president Whyte Gómez and one delegate after another commended the vital role civil society organisations have played in the UN adopting a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, thus marking an important step toward their eventual elimination.

One of the leading CSOs that has been working for a nuclear-weapons-free world for a decade is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Its Executive Director, Beatrice Fihn, said: “We hope that today marks the beginning of the end of the nuclear age. It is beyond question that nuclear weapons violate the laws of war and pose a clear danger to global security.”

Until now, nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction without a prohibition treaty, despite the widespread and catastrophic humanitarian consequences of their intentional or accidental detonation. Biological weapons were banned in 1972 and chemical weapons in 1992. “It is time for leaders around the world, she added, to match their values and words with action by signing and ratifying this treaty as a first step towards eliminating nuclear weapons.”

The treaty also creates obligations to support the victims of nuclear weapons use (known in Japanese as “hibakusha”) and testing and to remediate the environmental damage caused by nuclear weapons.

Finh noted that as has been true with previous weapon prohibition treaties, changing international norms leads to concrete changes in policies and behaviors, even in states not party to the treaty. “The strenuous and repeated objections of nuclear-armed states is an admission that this treaty will have a real and lasting impact,” she said.

Commenting the adoption of the treaty, David Krieger, President of the Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), said: “This is an exciting day for those of us who have worked for a world free of nuclear weapons and an important day for the world . . . What this represents is humanity finally standing up for sanity and its own survival 72 years into the Nuclear Age.”

This effort to ban nuclear weapons has been led by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons . . .The movement has benefitted from the broad support of international humanitarian, environmental, nonproliferation, and disarmament organizations that have joined forces throughout the world, added Krieger.

While the United States chose to boycott the negotiations, their repeated objections demonstrate that this treaty has the potential to significantly impact U.S. behavior regarding nuclear weapons issues, noted Krieger. “Previous weapon prohibition treaties, including the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, have demonstrated that changing international norms leads to concrete changes in policies and behaviors, even in states not party to the treaty.”

Rick Wayman, Director of Programs at NAPF, said, “This treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons is truly a joint effort between the majority of the world’s countries and many dedicated non-governmental organizations.”

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