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Faith-based & Other NGOs Look Forward to Entry into Force of the Nuclear Ban Treaty

By Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN (IDN) – When she learned that the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) reached the 50 states parties required for its entry into force, Setsuko Thurlow said: “I was not able to stand. I remained in my chair and put my head in my hands, and I cried tears of joy. … I found myself speaking with the spirits of hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I was immediately in conversation with these beloved souls. …I was reporting to the dead, sharing this good news first with them, because they paid the ultimate price with their precious lives.” 

Setsuko Thurlow is a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and long-time campaigner for nuclear weapons abolition. “I have a tremendous sense of accomplishment and fulfilment, a sense of satisfaction and gratitude. I know other survivors share these emotions — whether we are survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki; or test survivors from South Pacific island nations, Kazakhstan, Australia and Algeria; or survivors from uranium mining in Canada, the United States or the Congo,” she said in the statement published on the website of the 2017 Nobel Peace laureate International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

A joint interfaith statement on the 75th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 signed by 189 organizations around the world reaffirmed that “the presence of even one nuclear weapon violates the core principles of our different faith traditions and threatens the unimaginable destruction of everything we hold dear”.

“As a wide coalition of faith-based communities from around the world, we have committed to speaking with one voice that rejects the existential threat to humanity that nuclear weapons pose,” declared the statement.

Less than four months later, a broad spectrum of the non-governmental organization (NGOs) including churches, and a major Buddhist group have hailed the TPNW, which seeks for the first time to establish a comprehensive ban on atomic weapons.

The treaty aimed at destroying all nuclear weapons and prohibiting their use forever crossed a decisive milestone October 24 and will enter into force on January 22, 2021.

“The Holy See and the popes have vigorously supported the effort of the UN and the world against nuclear weapons,” Vatican News reported. In a video message on September 25 on the occasion of the UN’s 75th anniversary this year, Pope Francis reiterated his call for increased support for the principal international and legal instruments on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and prohibition.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) representing more than 550 million mainly Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant Christians also welcomed on October 26 the ratification of the prohibition treaty.

“It has now triggered the 90-day period after which the treaty will enter into legal force, meaning that a new normative standard in international law has been created, and that – for those States which are parties to it – the treaty must now be implemented,” said Peter Prove, director of the WCC’ Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.

According to the SPRI Yearbook, an “estimated 13,400 warheads” at the start of 2020 were threatening the survival of humankind. But the governments of the nine countries – Russia, USA, China, France, Britain, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea – which continue to hold and develop nuclear weapons have been staunch critics of the TPNW.

The director-general for Peace and Global Issues Hirotsugu Terasaki of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a community-based Buddhist organization, spanning 192 countries and territories around the world, said: “The entry into force of the TPNW establishes the fundamental norm that nuclear weapons are subject to comprehensive prohibition. This has a profound historical significance.”

He expressed the hope that more countries will ratify the treaty by the time of its entry into force, thus further strengthening it as a prohibitory norm. “At the same time, I sincerely hope that the significance and spirit of the treaty will be widely disseminated among the world’s people,” Mr Terasaki said.

He noted that some have taken a critical view that the TPNW, by failing to take realistic security perspectives into account, has deepened the divide between nuclear-weapon and nuclear-dependent states and the non-nuclear-weapon states.

“As citizens, however, we absolutely cannot entrust the security of our lives and property to nuclear weapons. And to the extent there is a divide, this is due to the stalled implementation of the nuclear-weapon states’ obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament set forth in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The TPNW was established as a concrete measure to implement this obligation.”

Mr Terasaki further expressed the hope that “the nuclear-weapon and nuclear-dependent states, including Japan, will participate (as permitted by the Treaty) in the first meeting of States Parties to the TPNW to be held within one year from its entry into force, where they can consider a full range of concrete steps to abolish nuclear weapons and how best to fulfil their nuclear disarmament obligations”.

The significance of the entry into force of the TPNW is “truly profound” also in view of the fact that “a grievous new arms race is beginning around the world”. The modernization and miniaturization of nuclear weapons are advancing, threatening to make them more ‘usable'”.

Mr Terasaki concluded: “Under such circumstances, it is up to civil society to decide if we will continue to tolerate humanity being held hostage by nuclear weapons, or whether we will raise our voices as an irresistible force for their banning and abolition. The Soka Gakkai and the SGI are fully committed to continuing our efforts to expand global people’s solidarity toward the realization of a world free from nuclear weapons.”

SGI expressed “deepest respect and appreciation to all those involved in the long struggle for a world free from the scourge of nuclear weapons, including the hibakusha, the states that played a leading role in this effort, the United Nations and its agencies, international organizations, as well as our friends and colleagues in the NGO community, such as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons … with whom we have worked over the years”.

In a statement, Sergio Duarte, President, and Paolo Cotta Ramusino, Secretary-General of the 1995 Nobel Peace Laureate Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs said the TPNW is “based on the common-sense notion that their use would have unacceptable humanitarian and environmental consequences”.

Pugwash expects the number of parties to the TPNW to increase in the near future to include in particular States that belong to existing or planned nuclear-weapon-free zones. “The TPNW is fully consistent with the NPT and is the only treaty that explicitly forbids its members from hosting nuclear weapons belonging to other states. Nuclear and non-nuclear-weapon States must work cooperatively to achieve the elimination of all nuclear arsenals and the risk they pose to every nation’s security,” added the statement.

Blue Banner, Mongolian NGO and a partner organization of the ICAN welcomed the 50th ratification of TPNW “as a major political impulse and a step in making this most dangerous weapon of mass destruction illegal under international law”.

Blue Banner is pledged to continue to work for “the speediest accession by Mongolia to the Treaty”, a state with internationally recognized nuclear-weapon-free status, that endorsed the “humanitarian pledge”, participated in negotiating the treaty and voted in its support. “The entry into force of the TPNW will stigmatize further nuclear weapons and their possession and advance the goal of their ultimate total elimination,” the statement said.

At the regional level, Blue Banner will continue to work with other regional civil society organizations to promote confidence in the Northeast Asian region and, until the nuclear weapons are totally eliminated, work to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region.

It called on all states to sign and accede to the treaty and will work with its partner organizations to raise the awareness of the importance of the treaty for world peace and realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Blue Banner was established in 2005 to promote nuclear non-proliferation and Mongolia’s initiative to turn the country into a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ). Chairman of the organization is the former Mongolian Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr Jargalsaikhany Enkhsaikhan.

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP) and Western States Legal Foundation (WSLF) urge the United States to “roll back its opposition to the TPNW and instead … embrace the treaty’s vision of a more democratic world in which nuclear weapons have no place and of a paradigm shift toward human security rather than the security of states”. The two organizations are affiliates of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), which is a partner of ICAN. [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 November 2020]

Photo: Albin Hillert / WCC, 2017

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Intererview with Mr Hirotsugu Terasaki, Director General of Peace and Global Issues, SGI(by UN News)