At Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony: Challenges of nuclear abolition aired in new light

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 year’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons offered an array of the moral, ethical and spiritual convictions and the political will that is needed in the abolition of nuclear weapons. The passion and the pageantry point towards the critical mass of commitment required for achieving the Nobel Laureate’s goal, one which many churches share.

Two women are the picture of this Nobel Prize: Setsuko Thurlow and Beatrice Fihn. Thurlow, a Hiroshima survivor, is a voice for the cloud of witnesses to nuclear disasters, a lifelong advocate whose testimonies also speak for generations alarmed by nuclear dangers. Fihn is the voice of a new movement to abolish nuclear weapons and, like many in the ICAN network which she leads, a committed campaigner in the prime of life. Pax Christi International and World Council of Churches are among the 468 partners in ICAN.

In the joint address on receiving the award for ICAN, Fihn laid out a challenge: “The story of nuclear weapons will have an ending, and it is up to us what that ending will be. Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?” She challenged each of the nine governments that have nuclear weapons: “The United States, choose freedom over fear. Russia, choose disarmament over destruction. … China, choose reason over irrationality.” Fihn also said governments that shelter under an ally’s nuclear umbrella are complicit in the crimes which would be committed by the use of such weapons.

“We were not content to be victims,” Thurlow said in her part of the Nobel Lecture. “We refused to wait for an immediate fiery end or the slow poisoning of our world. We refused to sit idly in terror as the so-called great powers … brought us recklessly close to nuclear midnight. We rose up. We shared our stories of survival. We said: humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist.”

“We are overjoyed by the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” [cited in the Nobel award to ICAN], Thurlow said. “Let this be the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.”

Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairperson Berit Reiss-Andersen, in her opening address, reviewed threats posed by nuclear weapons and gave clear answers to arguments often used to defend nuclear weapons. The peace prize has been given to work in this field 12 times in the nuclear age. Her speech provided a firm foundation for the award to ICAN in 2017.

Reiss-Andersen cited what Pope Francis said to participants in the Vatican’s recent symposium on nuclear weapons including representatives of Pax Christi International and World Council of Churches: “Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”

A final note: A Nobel Peace Prize ceremony’s greatest power may be that it enables unrealised truth to be told in a new light. The truth at issue has surely been spoken before, from shattered neighborhoods to the heights of power. Yet this Nobel award enabled such truth to be spoken to an attentive mixed audience representing the street as well as the summit: Civil society campaigners; the diplomatic corps; religious leaders; Norwegian society including a royal family in the front row.

A worldwide audience watched. Trumpets sounded. Artists sang. Listeners reached for their handkerchiefs when Setsuko Thurlow told what happened to her as a girl in Hiroshima.

In this unique setting, what truth is said to power has good prospects to also be heard. Words that touch hearts and minds are now on a record of special note. They will be repeated as a basis for taking action to sign and ratify the new nuclear ban treaty and for other steps to further delegitimise an immoral and unacceptable weapon.

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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Please see the links included in the article above for more information on the award. Below is a small sampling of international English-language press coverage including a story about Pope Francis’s Angelus on the day of the prize.

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