News Archive
Jun 9, 2015 - Peace Boat Raises Awareness of the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons at the 2015 NPT Review Conference at the United Nations
More than 100 delegates and civil society members attended the opening of the 2015 NPT Review Conference at the United Nations in April
Innocent civilians - infants, the aged and everyone in between - are the targets of nuclear weapon attacks. It is also civilians who bear the staggering price of governments spending billions of dollars on the development and renewal of nuclear weapons rather than on health, education, infrastructure, and threats to human security such as climate change. The existence today of thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, combined with the ever present possibility of human error, keep all of humanity on the brink of fatal consequences. It is with this in mind that Peace Boat played an active role in representing civil society at the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) held at the UN Headquarters in New York from April 27 to May 22, 2015.

The NPT, an international treaty that went into effect in 1970, aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament. For the past four decades, conferences to review the operation of the Treaty have been held at five-year intervals, and have resulted in mixed outcomes. Yet, the NPT has over the years not led to any significant nuclear disarmament measures.

Kawasaki Akira of Peace Boat (left) joined ICAN member Tim Wright and atomic survivors Setsuko Thurlow and Yamashita Yasuaki in holding a press conference at the United Nations. Peace Boat is a main member of ICAN
During this Review Conference, Peace Boat worked in cooperation with other civil society groups including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Hibakusha Stories, and Peace Boat US to strengthen awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and to call for a global ban on nuclear weapons. Toward this end, Peace Boat also worked closely with Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) including Setsuko Thurlow and Yamashita Yasuaki, the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Clifton Truman Daniel, a nuclear disarmament supporter and the grandson of President Harry Truman, under whose administration the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were authorized. While 2015 marks 70 years since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, during this period tens of thousands of new nuclear weapons have been created, the number of nuclear weapon states has jumped to nine, and countless numbers of people have been plagued by illnesses from radiation exposure caused by the bombs and by nuclear weapon testing.

At a UN side event, Akira Kawasaki (reflected speaking) proposed holding a Northeast Asian Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in order to raise support for nuclear disarmament in the region
Peace Boat's activities at the NPT Review Conference were multifaceted, including both public education and policy advocacy. Highlights included two side events at the United Nations: one illustrating the importance of creating a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, and one focusing on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war and the voices of Hibakusha. At the first side event, Peace Boat's Kawasaki Akira pointed out the impact of the lack of reconciliation over past history on progress towards nuclear disarmament in Northeast Asia. This, combined with the non-existence of a peace system to replace the prolonged armistice regime on the Korean Peninsula, and the Cold War remnants and lack of a common regional security mechanism in the region, "have constituted obstacles to the suffering of Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims and survivors being universally shared among the peoples in the region," Kawasaki explained.

To overcome this, Kawasaki said a broad initiative for reconciliation is needed under a strong political leadership, and noted that the upcoming 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in August of this year is a remarkable opportunity for that purpose. He also proposed to have a Northeast Asian Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons as a regional follow-up to the three international conferences on this topic that have until now taken place in Norway, Mexico and Austria. "Such a conference could make clear cases regarding the unacceptable nature of the human suffering and environmental destruction of nuclear weapons, in a fact-based and objective manner, to convince both peoples and policy makers in the region," he said. "The risks should be calculated, and should also factor into account the possible escalation of a conventional arms exchange in light of the worrisome territorial disputes currently existing in the region, and the possibility of attacks against nuclear facilities in the countries of the region."

At the Japan Society in New York, Setsuko Thurlow and Yamashita Yasuaki joined Clifton Truman Daniel (second from right) in sharing their stories and perspectives with New York youth, educators, and other members of the public
Peace Boat's other activities during the NPT Conference included participation in the civil society presentation to parties to the NPT, a reception at the UN Headquarters that gave Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors the opportunity to share their opinions with conference delegates, and participation in an ICAN press conference at the United Nations. A video message from the Hibakusha participating in Peace Boat's 87th Global Voyage, currently at sea, was also screened at various occasions throughout the Review Conference.

Peace Boat US also worked to help the Hibakusha Stories project bring atomic bomb survivors to New York City schools and to the Japan Society in New York in order to share their testimonies and perspectives with young people and educators. Youth filled auditoriums and listened raptly to the stories and messages of the survivors, crowding around them afterward to express their appreciation and to learn more about nuclear issues. Survivor Setsuko Thurlow, 83, said that the strong desire of the youth to know more, and their thoughtful questions and responses, gave her great hope for the prospect of nuclear disarmament.

It is becoming increasingly clear to many that non-nuclear weapon states must start a process to prohibit nuclear weapons rather than wait for nuclear weapon states to commit to disarmament
After more than three weeks, the NPT Review Conference wrapped up without being able to adopt an outcome document. However, the concerted efforts of civil society and engaged governments helped spur more than 100 states to endorse the "Humanitarian Pledge," in which they commit to work for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

Based on the evidence of the humanitarian impacts from any nuclear weapon detonation and on the acknowledgment of the increasing risk of use of nuclear weapons, the Humanitarian Pledge reflects a fundamental shift in the international discourse on nuclear disarmament over the past five years. The wide and growing international support for this historic pledge also sends a signal that a majority of the world's governments are ready to move forward with the prohibition of nuclear weapons, even if the nuclear weapon states are not ready to participate. While the NPT may have failed to achieve an outcome document, "it has been made clear that the nuclear weapon states are not interested in making any new commitments to disarmament, so now it is up to the rest of the world to start a process to prohibit nuclear weapons by the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," said Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN.

Setsuko Thurlow made a strong connection with youth in New York City. Peace Boat is working toward a ban on nuclear weapons that survivors like Ms. Thurlow can witness in their lifetimes, and that will safeguard future generations
Setsuko Thurlow pointed out that this year marks not only the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings, but also the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. "We need to reflect once again on the meaning of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the meaning of the UN Charter to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" she told UN delegates at the Civil Society Presentations to the NPT on May 1, 2015. Ms Thurlow has participated in the Global Voyage for a Nuclear Free World: Peace Boat Hibakusha Project, and was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her lifelong dedication to nuclear disarmament.

Peace Boat has consultative status with the United Nations, and will continue to work with the UN and other civil society organizations for a global ban on nuclear weapons that aging survivors such as Setsuko Thurlow can witness in their lifetimes. Join our efforts by participating in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and by following our Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World - Peace Boat Hibakusha Project.

To learn more about the case for banning nuclear weapons, download Ban Nuclear Weapons Now HERE

A full schedule of Peace Boat's activities at the NPT Review Conference can be downloaded HERE
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