Hiroshima Memo: World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates encourages and challenges A-bombed city of Hiroshima

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

“We (the ordinary citizens of civil society) have the power to create magic and that magic is to get rid of nuclear weapons.”

“We would like to congratulate them (Mayor Akiba, Governor Yuzaki, and the people of Hiroshima) on the exemplary role that Hiroshima continues to play in the struggle for a world without nuclear weapons. It is with great respect that all of us are here today at this most sacred place.”

I suspect that many of the citizens who visited the venues of the 2010 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, whether at the Grand Prince Hotel Hiroshima or Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and listened directly to the voices of the six Nobel Peace Prize laureates as well as representatives of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organizations, among others, came away inspired and encouraged. At the same time, they must have felt the high expectations of the visitors for the A-bombed city of Hiroshima.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureates who gathered in Hiroshima are all human beings of conviction. Mairead Maguire, a peace activist from Northern Ireland who maintains a sunny smile, paid a visit to Israel before traveling to Hiroshima to further her efforts to protect the human rights of Palestinians. When she was refused entry to Israel at an airport there, she protested this decision, describing the act as “illegal.” She was then detained and held in solitary confinement for more than a week. Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist, is being treated like a criminal by the Iranian government due to her criticism of the nation’s human rights policies, among other reasons, and she has been unable to return to her country after making a lecture tour of Europe.

Frederik Willem de Klerk, former president of South Africa, brought his nation’s policy of apartheid to an end and ordered the dismantling of six nuclear warheads that South Africa had developed and produced. Mohamed ElBaradei, former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the so-called “nuclear watchdog,” worked to prevent nuclear proliferation while at the IAEA. The 14th Dalai Lama, the supreme leader of Tibetan Buddhism, has appealed for the importance of conflict resolution through non-violent means at every possible opportunity.

Jody Williams, the American peace activist who contributed to the establishment of the Landmine Ban Treaty, repeatedly stressed that we should not leave nuclear abolition in the hands of governments and that nuclear abolition could not be achieved unless citizens took action. Her words may have made this aim sound easy, but backed by her experience, they carry weight.

If we continue to leave the abolition of nuclear weapons to the nuclear weapon states, we will not see the elimination of these weapons for years to come. The number of nuclear weapons states will likely grow before nuclear disarmament moves forward, and the possibility that a nuclear weapon will be used unexpectedly, including by an act of nuclear terrorism, will increase further.

A nuclear weapons convention seeks to clarify the inhumanity of nuclear arms and stipulate that the use of nuclear weapons, as well as the threat of use and the possession itself of nuclear weapons, are in violation of international law. At this world summit, the participants agreed that like-minded governments, civil societies, and others must work together to realize the establishment of a nuclear weapons convention at the earliest date, a goal that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also supports.

The summit participants from overseas were united in affirming the importance of the testimony of A-bomb survivors, who experienced the horrors of nuclear war firsthand. They said that conveying the voice of the A-bomb survivors to the world will advance the cause of nuclear abolition and they offered a special award for the Hiroshima summit to the Japan Confederation of A-and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, which has devoted itself to this cause for many years. The award was made to honor the longtime efforts of the A-bomb survivors.

People of the same convictions gathered for the event. A sense of unity among the citizens in attendance could be perceived as well as feelings of encouragement on the side of the Hiroshima hosts. The Nobel Peace Prize laureates and other representatives, who touched the A-bombed city of Hiroshima anew, will now return to their nations with fresh resolve to make efforts for nuclear abolition, among their other activities.

At the same time, conditions in the world do not permit much optimism. In the United States, President Obama’s Democratic party suffered a crushing defeat in mid-term elections and those opposed to nuclear disarmament are quickly regaining strength. In Japan as well, the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is set to formulate the first new defense program, which will lean further toward a reliance on nuclear arms and the Japan-U.S. military alliance, a far cry from abandoning the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The voice of the A-bombed cities has not gained nearly enough influence, even in Japan, to deserve the praise offered by the Nobel Peace Prize laureates and others. We should first recognize this reality, reflect on how we can help spread the spirit of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to other parts of Japan and to the world, and take action. This is the essential challenge that the world summit has left in our hands.

(Originally published on November 22, 2010)

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