Nuclear weapons. Are they still a problem we could really face? More than 60 years after the end of World War II? Isn’t that issue out of date and definitely out of fashion? Is there anything to talk about? These questions could distinctly be heard at the ICAN Civil Society Forum and International Conference on “Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapon” which took place in Oslo, Norway, March 2-5, 2013. EIYN actively took part in this event. Read below a personal account of the conference by EIYN’s representative to this event – young religious leader – Rafał Socha, from Poland.
The Conference was organized by the Norwegian MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) and prior to the conference, the “ICAN Civil Society Forum” – civil society consultation took place. RfP, European Interfaith Youth Network (EIYN) was there, as part of delegation of Religions for Peace to this forum and conference. RfP’s delegation included Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jewish representatives and consisted of several senior religious leaders, leaders of European Council of Religious Leaders (ECRL), and 3 youth religious leaders from EIYN (Piotr Kwapisiewicz, from Poland, Jewish, from Jewish Association Czulent, Thomas Gilet, from France, Muslim, from Muslim Scouts of France), Rafal Socha, from Poland, Christian Protestant, from Ecumenical Youth Council of Europe). Our group of EIYN representatives, contributed to the Civil Society Forum, with an activity for all the Forum’s participants, activity based on our experience from the “ArmsDown!” campaign.
On Saturday early morning, March 2nd, after all members of RfP delegation met for a short briefing at ECRL’s office, we took a taxi to Château Neuf (venue of ICAN Forum) and registered for the “ICAN Civil Society Forum”. As we registered, we found out that there had already been registered more than 500 people from different countries (it was also a surprise for the organizers).
The Forum began with a short singing performance. The First lecture was given by dr Patricia Lewis (Chatham House). She explained “Nuclear Issue Basics”. That was the introduction to the whys and wherefores of nuclear weapons. The next two speakers (dr Rebecca Johnson, Co-Chair of ICAN and Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja) explained why a ban on nuclear weapons is urgently needed, and how it could, and indeed would, be achieved. Cardinal Onaiyekan showed, in reference to history (i.e. the abolition of slavery, the end of apartheid, treaties banning landmines and cluster bombs), that with energy, commitment, a clear goal and a good strategy, it is possible to achieve a real and sustainable change.
It almost goes without saying that any use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences. But what does this really mean? How many people can these weapons kill, and what kind of injuries would survivors and relief agencies have to deal with? And what do we know about the long-term climatic, socio-economic, and agricultural effects? Answers for those and even more questions could be found in the second session, which was concentrated on a catastrophic impact of nuclear weapons. At first, we had an opportunity to listen to the Rt Revd Yutaka Minabe (Religions for Peace) and Terumi Tanaka, the two survivors, who were sharing their personal account of the inhumane nature of these weapons. Those were truly sad stories, stories with a huge emotional cargo and stories of people who lost their families during the nuclear bomb explosion in Hiroshima, Japan.
After that, a panel of leading experts from the fields of medicine, humanitarian crisis relief and climate research discussed the humanitarian impact of nuclear explosions (Prof Sir Andy Haines, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, dr Ira Helfand, MD, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear Weapons, expert on Emergency Medicine, dr Alan Robock, Professor II, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University , dr Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International nuclear radiation expert).
The Evening program was also impressive. ICAN invited Martin Sheen and Father John Dear (Both are known for their contributions and support of various charitable causes. Martin Sheen has received two awards for his humanitarian work.). Martin Sheen delivered his address on the need for a ban on nuclear weapons, and then, he was interviewed together with his mentor, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominee, Reverend John Dear S.J. Participants of the Forum were also allowed to ask questions. What we could mainly hear from the discussion was that helping other people requires self-dedication. It requires time, quite often money and, of course, our commitment. If somebody wants to change the world, has to be ready for that. One could say it’s obvious but I would say it’s an issue worth remembering.
A number of global problems, from international wars to human rights violations, to climate change, to the use of inhumane weapons, have been addressed by the establishment of international treaties. But how are these treaties developed? How can civil society work to ensure a successful and effective outcome? The Sunday program began/ with a panel discussion entitled “Changing International Politics through Treaties”. A panel of experts and campaigners, with hands-on experience from different treaty-making processes discussed strategies for solving global problems through the development of new legal instruments. Forum’s participants took active part in the panel asking questions or briefly adding their suggestions.
The Last Session of the ICAN Civil Society Forum was entitled – “Doing it”. That was an important summary of the Forum. During two days we heard tons of information about how dangerous nuclear weapons are and how important it is to make people realize the problem really exists. It was the time to learn how our voice can be heard by other people, how to make a campaign and how to produce political results in the age of globalization. Their experience shared Jim McBride (Campaigner and Media Relations Consultant, Obama for America 2008. Founder, Network For Progress), Amelia Showalter (Director of Digital Analytics, Obama for America) and dr Rianne Teule, (nuclear security expert, Greenpeace International). On a Sunday evening, after the Forum ended, all the RfP delegation gathered in the ECRL’s office and prepared a statement, this statement was presented on the following during the International Conference on “Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons”. Find the Statement below, you can also find it under this link.
The aim of this Civil Society Forum and the conference was to strengthen the anti-nuclear world movement and to connect all campaigners, experts and social leaders in their efforts to abolish these weapons. It was great to see religious leaders present there and involved in this process, as no political process can be successful without support from world’s religions. We as youth religious leaders should be part of this global movement.