Hiroshima and the World: Hiroshima, Nuclear Abolition, Hibakusha, Costa Ricans and the Model Nuclear Convention

by Carlos Vargas Pizarro

Carlos Vargas Pizarro
Mr. Vargas Pizarro is vice-president of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), based in New York, and an international law consultant for the International Peace Bureau in Geneva, Switzerland. He is a member of the "Model Nuclear Convention Drafters and Consultants Group," which created the "Model Nuclear Weapons Convention," presented in 1997 to the United Nations General Assembly by Costa Rica and Malaysia. From 1986-2009, he was a professor of International Law at the University of Costa Rica. Mr. Vargas Pizarro has a long and distinguished career as a lawyer in Costa Rica and internationally, including appearances at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. He was born in the city of San Jose, Costa Rica in November 1950 and earned his Juris Doctor Degree from the University of Costa Rica in 1982.

Hiroshima, Nuclear Abolition, Hibakusha, Costa Ricans and the Model Nuclear Convention

On July 16, 2007, a judgment was issued at the "International Peoples' Tribunal on the Dropping of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki" held in Memorial Hall in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. As one of the three international Judges of this tribunal, created by the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to contribute to establishing a peaceful world without war and conflict, we issued a judgment in strict accordance with the facts and international law applicable to the atomic bombing of both cities, ruling that: "... the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was illegal in light of the principles and rules of international Humanitarian Law applicable in armed conflicts, since the bombing of both cities made civilians the object of attack, using nuclear weapons that were incapable of distinguishing between civilians and military targets, and consequently caused unnecessary suffering to the civilian survivors."

During the proceedings, I learned a great deal about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the suffering of the survivors while reviewing sixty-four archives from the U.S. National Archives Collection which had been classified as secret until 2006, when they became public documents. I also looked at many testimonies from hibakusha (A-bomb survivors), medical doctors, experts on radiation, professors of international law, history professors, lawyers, various authors writing about the bombings, and a range of publications at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

The evidence demonstrated the illegality of the atomic bombing and the death, agony, pain and shock of the people injured by the blast. Clearly, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima that occurred sixty-five years ago transformed our world and showed the enormous destructive power of nuclear weapons.

My first visit to Hiroshima was in 1987, when I accepted an invitation from the Government of Japan to visit the city. I was then Director of the Legal Division of Costa Rica's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For the first time in my life, the terror produced by the atomic bombing of August 6, 1945 was evident to me and I began to understand the pain of the hibakusha. During the several trips that I made to Japan since then to lecture on Costa Rica and nuclear disarmament, many hibakusha came to be my friends, and I support their cause as my own.

In my case, the sadness produced by the atomic bombing and the suffering of the Hibakusha has increased my appreciation for our traditional values in Costa Rica, which are based on the search for peace, the abolition of military forces, the abolition of war, nuclear disarmament, protection of human rights and of the environment, and the active exercise of democracy and its values. Like the hibakusha, I strongly believe that we need to make a difference by supporting the abolition of nuclear weapons. We all have the responsibility and obligation to do our part to promote nuclear disarmament.

Along with so many other students in my country, I learned about making a difference in high school, when we found that long-standing philosophies about the importance of connections between human rights, peace education, democracy, environmental protection, sustainable development, and equal opportunities for all people are fundamentally tied to the principles underlying the abolition of the armed forces, the abolition of war, and consequently to the abolition of nuclear weapons.

I learned that in producing peace, all these factors are linked. I understand that Peace is not simply the rejection of war, or the absence of war, or the abolition of military forces. For peace to exist, many values must be integrated, including protection of human rights, protection of the environment, participation in democracy, education, sustainable development, and equal opportunities for all people to enjoy life and to develop economically, spiritually, and creatively. When we achieve these principles, we obtain peace. In 1949, these values were revitalized in Costa Rican society, resulting in the Constitution's total abolition of armed forces, and subsequently the rejection of nuclear weapons.

These principles comprise the spirit of peace expressed in Article 12 of the Costa Rican Constitution, in force since 1949. To be successful and sustainable, the renouncement of war and abolition of armed forces must integrate the many values of a holistic vision of peace as previously described.

Costa Rica was the first country in the entire world whose citizens chose, of their own free will, to abolish the country's armed forces. Likewise Costa Rica policy on disarmament and nuclear abolition has persisted for nearly 61 years in a region where most States have drastically increased their military expenditures.

The unique perspective stemming from its abolition of armed forces 61 years ago inspired Costa Rica's use of other, non-military means at all times to maintain its national sovereignty, empowering the country and its citizens to spearhead the promotion of peace, abolition of military forces, abolition of nuclear weapons and protection of human rights at both the regional and universal level.

Today, in the absence of armed forces and rejecting nuclear weapons, Costa Rica relies on instruments of international law to pursue peaceful settlement of international disputes, and to promote cooperation and friendly relations among all countries and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

I believe that Costa Rica sets an example for the world, proving that it is possible for States to exist peacefully without armed forces and weapons of mass destruction, and that our civil societies have the power to influence on behalf of paths to peaceful coexistence and peaceful settlement of disputes, using instruments of international law without resorting to military action or nuclear weapons deterrence measures.

Pursuant to our traditional values, in 1997 Costa Rica, together with Malaysia, submitted the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention to the U.N. General Assembly Secretary, a global treaty created to abolish nuclear weapons. As a member of the Model Nuclear Convention Drafters and Consultants Group that prepared this instrument, I believe that the treaty explores the legal, technical and political elements for achieving and maintaining a nuclear-free world and follows the 1996 International Court Of Justice Consultative Opinion ruling that: "There exists an obligation to pursue and bring to a conclusion, negotiations in good faith on nuclear disarmament…"

This shared vision has empowered me to promote the values of the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention and quickly achieve a nuclear disarmament treaty, as declared by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his five-point plan for nuclear disarmament.

The Model Nuclear Weapons Convention has been presented by Costa Rica to the 2007 NPT Prep Com in Vienna and the 2007-2008 United Nations General Assembly. Through the support of my organization, the Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Weapons (IALANA) and other organizations, this model treaty has been promoted around the world in different meeting and conferences.

During the NPT Review Conference in May 2010, we members of Civil Society, NGOs and Governments have the responsibility and obligation to do our part to promote the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention, with active participation during the conference to advance the Convention. The Convention is coherent with the Nuclear Weapons States Declaration, issued during the 2000 NPT Review Conference, by which all of the Nuclear Weapons States accepted an unconditional obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament, as declared in point 6 of the 13 disarmament steps.

It is not necessary to belong to any political organization, religious persuasion or group of any kind. We need only share the same vision, of living in a world of peace, because we believe that conflicts can be resolved and negotiated without violence and in a peaceful manner.

I believe that, with faith and with the combined power and influence of civil society and Government, it is possible to realize the vision of living in a world free of nuclear weapons in the near future.

We must be aware that humanity requires both small and large efforts from each and every one of us to make any dream come true. With faith, we can do it.

As a Christian, I would like to conclude by sharing this quote from the Bible: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Hebrews: 11.1

With faith, let us embrace the challenge and work together to promote, nationally and internationally, this peace vision of living in a nuclear-free world.

(Originally published on April 26, 2010)

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