Nobel winners busy before the Peace Prize, planning what comes next

By Jonathan Frerichs
UN Representative Pax Christi International and World Council of Churches

Ed. Note: On Sunday, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received the Nobel Peace Prize during a beautiful award ceremony attended by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, the Norwegian royal family, diplomats, ICAN-campaigners, and others. The award ceremony included two powerful speeches from Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, and Tetsuko Thurlow, survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. This story by our UN representative, Jonathan Frerichs, who is in Olso, is about the days prior to this big moment.

ICAN campaigners in Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize award were busy the day before the award planning for what comes next. “Tomorrow we will have to be silent so let’s make a lot of noise today,” Selma fan Oostwaard of PAX, Netherlands, told about 150 activists and supporters of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Campaign veterans, atomic bomb survivors and advocacy strategists took turns at the microphones. The enthusiastic focus on the task ahead is fueled by what campaigners have learned in the decade since ICAN took shape. ICAN now has nearly 500 partners in 100 countries including Pax Christi International,  the World Council of Churches and other faith-based organisations.

ICAN’s founders include doctors whose anti-nuclear endeavours earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Disillusioned by the nuclear powers’ failure to meet their disarmament obligations, plans for a new and broader campaign began in 2005.

Dave​ ​Sweeney of the Australian affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War described ICAN today by what was envisaged then. “ICAN has always put the human story first,” he said. “It has a clear aim—to ban nuclear weapons. It has a fine name – I can, We can. It’s based at the grassroots.” Prayer, protest, performance and much more are in the ICAN toolkit, he added.

“ICAN is a story of hope. We love this planet, we love its peoples. We’ll give it our best to be sure that it survives and thrives. ICAN’s Nobel Prize is well-earned,” Sweeney said.

The Nobel Committee cited ICAN for its role in achieving the new nuclear ban treaty with its solid humanitarian foundations. ICAN’s work is inspired by disarmament work grounded in international humanitarian law which helped secure bans on landmines and cluster munitions, and treaties prohibiting the other weapons of mass destruction.

Terumi Tanaka, a survivor of Nagasaki and leader of a major survivors’ association in Japan, told the campaigners, “We have to challenge those who continue to hang on to nuclear weapons in the name of security, but really do so just to serve their own purposes. We are getting old. The time we have to tell the story is limited. We pass the baton to all of you to achieve this goal.”

The nuclear ban treaty references the suffering of indigenous peoples and other groups. Sue Coleman-Haseldine lives near the nuclear test site in Australia used by the United Kingdom in the 1950s. “Sixty-three years on, my little home town is called the cancer capital of Australia. Ask a young person what they will die from and they answer: ‘Cancer. Everyone else is.’”, she said. “ICAN’s work has been so important for me. On one hand, I am no longer alone or isolated. On the other, I understand how bad and widespread is the nuclear legacy around the world.”

Ray Acheson, an ICAN leader from Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, said, “Survivors, indigenous people, women and girls – the most vulnerable groups – are written into the DNA” of the new Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty needs to come into force as soon as possible, she and others noted.

The meeting switched to workshop mode to pursue that task. One dealt with “Getting​ ​to​ ​50”, how to secure the number of ratifications needed for the treaty to enter into force.  ​Fifty-six states have now signed – three more this week – and three of those have already ratified.

Other workshops took up how to strengthen support for the treaty, both​ ​in​ states that have ​nuclear​ ​weapons and in ​states​ that don’t have them but rely on them. The latter topic attracted participants from 13 nuclear-alliance states—Japan, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Romania, Greece, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Canada, Japan, Australia and USA, plus campaigners from nuclear-weapon-free Austria, Switzerland, Indonesia and Malaysia. A fourth workshop focused on media​ ​work including ICAN’s main message going forward from the Nobel Peace Prize. Hashtags in active use around the Nobel award include #NobelPeacePrize, #EndofNukes and #nuclearban.

Francis Kuria of the African Council of Religious Leaders, an active ICAN member, credited ICAN’s founders for giving the campaign clear goals, a focused process and local-global partnerships. He said the atomic bomb survivors inspire ICAN with tenacity, passion and wisdom.

“We are the new normal on nuclear weapons,” Kuria said with the Nobel Peace Prize award one day away. He said those who are still willing to use them and keep them will no longer be seen as normal.

“You are the light of the world,” Kuria told fellow campaigners. “Shine your light on the world and transform it so that the treaty becomes universal and we bequeath on our children a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Jonathan Frerichs is the UN Representative in Geneva for Pax Christi International and the World Council of Churches. He prepared this report for both organisations.

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