Peace Boat supports the first meeting of the International Group of Eminent Persons

Dec 20, 2022

The first meeting of the International Group of Eminent Persons for a World without Nuclear Weapons (IGEP) was held in Hiroshima on December 10 and 11, amid growing concerns that Russia might use nuclear weapons following its invasion of Ukraine.

Set up under the initiative of Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, IGEP aims to become a platform where experts can exchange ideas and thoughts beyond their respective national positions and engage in candid discussions concerning a concrete path towards the realization of a world without nuclear weapons.

13 of 15 members gathered in Hiroshima (see list here), where the discussion was chaired by Shiraishi Takashi, chancellor of the Prefectural University of Kumamoto and an expert in international politics.

In the first session, former U.S. President Barack Obama called for a world without nuclear arms in a video message. Looking back to when he became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima in May 2016, Obama stated that his trip "strengthened my own resolve to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons worldwide, and it is this same commitment that brings you all here today." He then emphasised that "We owe it to our children to pursue a world without nuclear weapons."

A video message was also delivered by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who said, "Not since the darkest days of the Cold War have we heard such clear threats about their use," in an apparent criticism of Russia's nuclear threat in Ukraine.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also stated in a video message that North Korea's nuclear development "undermines our interest in a stable, secure, rules-based Indo-Pacific," while voicing his commitment to "the cornerstone Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."

On the first day of the 2-day meeting in Hiroshima, IGEP members heard the testimony of Hibakusha Yahata Teruko, who joined the “Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World: Peace Boat Hibakusha Project” in 2013. Yahata, now 85, was exposed to the atomic bomb at her home when she was 8 years old. Her participation in the Peace Boat Hibakusha Project strengthened her desire to abolish nuclear weapons, and she shared her belief that the world is facing a tough choice under the threat of nuclear weapons and her hopes for this IGEP meeting to be a step toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. Yahata shared her experiences directly in the English language. Rose Gottemoeller, Former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, spoke of being moved strongly by hearing the account of a Hibakusha in her native English for the first time.

On the same day, the Japan NGO Network for Nuclear Weapons Abolition coordinated roundtable in which 19 NGO representatives attended, including from the Japan Confederation of A- and H- bomb Sufferers Organization (Nihon Hidankyo), Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A- bomb Sufferers Organisations, Asian Network of Trust (ANT) Hiroshima, Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Kakuwaka Hiroshima, Nagasaki Global Citizen’s Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, Japan Congress Against A and H-bombs (Gensuikin), Hiroshima Council against A and H Bombs (Hiroshima Gensuikyo), Know Nukes Tokyo, Japan Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (JALANA), Japanese Parliamentary Committe for the World Federation and Peace Boat. In this interactive session with IGEP members Peace Boat was represented by Watanabe Rika, while Hatakeyama Sumiko served as an interpreter.

In this session, Mimaki Tomoyuki, director of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Orgaizations, stated that “the power of an atomic bomb is unimaginable. Those who survived are suffering from invisible radiation damage. Let us persistently call on the nuclear weapon states and the Japanese government to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and appeal to the world for the abolition of nuclear weapons.”

Kido Sueichi, Secretary General of the Japan Confederation of A- and H- bomb Sufferers Organisations (Nihon Hidankyo) stated “nuclear weapons have not become a force to eliminate war. Thus, against this background, I want IGEP members to discuss the acceptability and deceptiveness of nuclear deterrence theory. Whenever I see Russia’s attack in Ukraine, I am always reminded that wars should not be resolved by force but only resolved by dialogue.”

Dr Tomonaga Masao, Chair of Nagasaki Global Citizens’ Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, shared his thoughts on deterrence policy as follows; “I believe that one of the key discussions in the IGEP will be about how all nuclear weapon states can overcome the idea of nuclear deterrence, and go beyond policies that rely on it to move towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Overcoming Japan's policy of extended deterrence (the nuclear umbrella) is likewise an urgent issue for us Japanese citizens. I have a request to the IGEP members. Please come up with a proposal that helps countries move away from nuclear deterrence and the nuclear umbrella policy.”

Following was Tanaka Miho, co-representative of Kakuwaka Hiroshima, who appealed that “we must remember the suffering that Hibakusha in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and around the world, continue to endure. Their suffering has been far greater than the kind of difficulties we have faced and will face in nuclear disarmament efforts. Members of the IGEP, please have the courage to appeal to the world for a ban on nuclear weapons, not nuclear deterrence. We hope that you will lead the world from Hiroshima.”

NGO representatives also presented their recommendations that IGEP members should:
1) discuss nuclear issues based on the humanitarian consequences that they learned from first-hand accounts of Hibakusha
2) remember that the health hazards, human rights violations and disproportionate gendered impacts of nuclear weapons, testing and uranium mining are serious problems that continue to this day, and
3) feel uncomfortable in a security regime that can only be established at someone else's expense.

On the second day, IGEP members visited the Peace Memorial Park and laid flowers at the cenotaph for the victims, followed by a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

The chair Shiraishi explained that the members mainly discussed why momentum for nuclear disarmament has not been invigorated enough, and how arms control should be implemented; and that differing views regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amongst members also led to difficulties in the discussion.

In the closing session, Prime Minister Kishida expressed his expectation for this IGEP meeting to discuss further concrete means for a world without nuclear weapons and make recommendations to the 2026 NPT RevCon. Further, he mentioned that the meeting will continue and convey a strong message to the G7 Summit to be held in Hiroshima in May 2023. The next IGEP meeting is expected to be held in early 2023 before the G7 summit.