Hiroshima mayor calls on government to ratify nuclear weapons ban treaty at 74th anniversary of A-bombing

by Kanako Noda, Staff Writer

On August 6, Hiroshima observed the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city with the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony in the Peace Memorial Park. In the Peace Declaration during the ceremony, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui pointed out that nuclear disarmament “is at a standstill,” and requested that the Japanese government sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which it has rebuffed, calling this “the request” of the hibakusha (A-bomb survivors). At a news conference after the ceremony, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reaffirmed the government’s stance of not joining the treaty.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty which was concluded between the United States and Russia, the pillar of nuclear arms reduction after the Cold War, expired on August 2. Mr. Matsui urged his listeners to remember back to when the treaty was signed in the 1980s. Two nuclear superpowers were in a tense, escalating nuclear arms race yet continued with dialogue to seek disarmament. He posed the question: “Should we not now recall and, for human survival, strive for that ideal world?”

Mr. Matsui cited a tanka poem written by an A-bomb survivor for the first time, which expresses the horror of the atomic bombing. He also talked about the importance of a spirit of “tolerance” in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, who played a significant role in India’s independence, stressing, “We must transcend differences of status or opinion and strive together in a spirit of tolerance toward our ideal.”

The mayor asked world leaders to face what actually happened in the lives of individual victims and their loved ones by visiting peace-related facilities such as the Peace Memorial Museum, which reopened this past April after a sweeping renewal of its exhibition space. He also urged them to address nuclear disarmament and respond to the yearning of civil society for the entry into force of the TPNW. He called on the Japanese government to “accede to the hibakusha’s request that the treaty be signed and ratified.” This year, the mayor’s words toward the government took a step further than before.

At a news conference, Mr. Abe explained his reasoning for not taking part in the treaty. “The Japanese government shares the same goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. However, the treaty was created without considering the security issues of the real world and without the involvement of the nuclear weapon states.”

About 50,000 people attended the first Peace Memorial Ceremony held in the rain since 2014. This year’s ceremony was the first of the Reiwa Era, which started this past May. Among the participants were representatives from 89 nations, including six nuclear weapons states – among them the United States and Russia – the European Union (EU), and 36 family members of the victims from various prefectures.

At 8:15 a.m., the time the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, those in attendance all offered a silent prayer at the sound of the Peace Bell tolled by the representative of the victims’ families and a children’s representative. Two sixth graders read out the Commitment to Peace and expressed their determination by saying, “We carry the strong voices of the souls of the hibakusha.” Then also said, “We will relay these voices to the next generation and to the world at large.” The register of the A-bomb victims was placed in the stone chest beneath the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims. The names of 5,068 people, who had died or were confirmed dead during the past year, were added to the register. The register now consists of 117 volumes and contains the names of 319,186 victims.

Summary of the Peace Declaration

 Around the world today, we see self-centered nationalism in ascendance, tensions heightened by international exclusivity and rivalry, with nuclear disarmament at a standstill. Our elders pursued an ideal―a world beyond war and undertook to construct a system of international cooperation. We should now recall that and strive for that ideal world.
 To achieve a peaceful, sustainable world, we must transcend differences of status or opinion and strive together in a spirit of tolerance toward our ideal. It is vital that coming generations internalize the progress the hibakusha and others have made toward a peaceful world, then drive steadfastly forward.
 World leaders around the world must pursue negotiations in good faith on nuclear disarmament, as mandated by Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and respond to the yearning of civil society for entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), a milestone on the road to a nuclear-weapon-free world.
 The Japanese government needs to accede to the hibakusha’s request that the TPNW be signed and ratified, and display leadership in taking the next step toward a world free from nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on August 7, 2019)