Editorial: Nobel Peace Prize awarded to ICAN, fueling further momentum for nuclear abolition

In the year that nuclear weapons were outlawed at the United Nations, it is fitting that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an organization that contributed significantly to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by persuading national governments to support this agreement.

ICAN is a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with a unique worldwide reach. Among the members in Japan are the Japanese Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which is the Japan office of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), its administrative office located at the Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association; Project NOW!, an organization made up of younger people in Hiroshima; and Peace Boat, a Tokyo-based NGO. Currently, 486 antinuclear NGOs from 101 countries have become partner organizations of ICAN.

The aging A-bomb survivors have been elated with the efforts put forth by younger generations, both in and out of Japan, and applaud the recognition brought to the antinuclear campaign by this Nobel Peace Prize.

On September 26, ICAN held an event at United Nations University in Tokyo to mark the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. The title of the keynote speech clearly conveys the philosophy behind the group’s activities: “Valuing one’s life is of utmost importance for the realization of justice.”

It is ordinary citizens, all of us, whose lives are threatened by the some 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. So we must raise our voices to oppose nuclear arms and expand the circle of this nuclear abolition campaign. A sense of urgency must be felt personally, by every human being, to create a groundswell of energy for mobilization and action.

When the nuclear weapons ban treaty opened for signatures at United Nations headquarters last month, Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of ICAN, represented civil society and spoke at the U.N. General Assembly.

In her speech, Ms. Fihn made a point of praising the long years of unflagging efforts that have been made by the A-bomb survivors.

ICAN has taken up the mission of the survivors, who have devoted themselves with a single-minded determination to help realize the abolition of nuclear weapons. Their pure desire is that “No others should be made to endure the same kind of suffering.”

ICAN, working together with antinuclear organizations and A-bomb survivors’ groups in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, focused on the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons to expedite the establishment of the nuclear weapons ban treaty. They persisted in lobbying government representatives by providing opportunities to listen to the A-bomb survivors’ accounts first-hand in conjunction with the negotiating sessions.

In a statement made after the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize, ICAN called the award “a tribute…to the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the hibakusha – and victims of nuclear test explosions around the world.” This sentiment should come as no surprise.

Throughout human history, epoch-making events, like the abolition of slavery and the realization of women’s suffrage, are always marked by many hardships. Such breakthroughs were achieved by overcoming a long series of conflicts and obstacles.

It is true that the nuclear weapons ban treaty must still rise above high walls: the United States, Russia, China, and the other nuclear nations as well as those, including Japan, that cling to the idea of nuclear deterrence. The fact that Japan is one of the countries that have turned its back on the treaty is shameful.

It is only natural that citizens would consider the government’s stance a “betrayal” of the A-bomb survivors.

Meanwhile, there are a few countries, North Korea in particular, that continue to defy the warnings made by other nations and push forward with their nuclear development efforts. This is a real threat that cannot be ignored.

Even so, the starting point of antinuclear activities has never changed. Under the mushroom clouds of the atomic bombings, scores of people were gravely injured, many of them losing their lives. For 72 years, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have pointed to the tragedy wrought by the atomic bombings, recalling, over and over, the horrific experiences that they would rather forget, and at times even revealing their scarred bodies.

Although the road ahead to realizing a world without nuclear weapons remains long, the U.N. adoption of the nuclear weapons ban treaty and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN now adds momentum toward reaching that goal.

(Originally published on October 7, 2017)