Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is Adopted, Part 2

Passionate appeals of A-bomb survivors are heard by the world

by Kanako Noda and Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writers

A treaty that outlaws nuclear weapons was adopted on July 7 with the support of many non-nuclear nations after negotiations at United Nations headquarters in New York. The Chugoku Shimbun examines the significance of this agreement and subsequent steps for realizing a world free of nuclear arms.

Seiko Ikeda, 84, the vice chairperson of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (chaired by Sunao Tsuboi) and a resident of Aki Ward, was in her hospital bed in Hiroshima on July 8 when she learned that the United Nations had adopted a treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons. Ms. Ikeda suffered a brain hemorrhage in January and is now undergoing rehabilitation. “There is finally proof that the passionate appeals of the A-bomb survivors and victims have not been in vain. Our efforts have moved us another step closer to the elimination of nuclear arms,” Ms. Ikeda said, an exultant expression on her face.

At the time of the atomic bombing, Ms. Ikeda was 12 years old and a first-year student at a girls’ school. On August 6, 1945, she was mobilized to help tear down houses near the Tsurumi Bridge (now part of Naka Ward), about 1.5 kilometers from the hypocenter, in order to create a fire lane. She was badly burned in the A-bomb blast and had surgery about 15 times to treat keloid scars on her face. She worried about her parents, who were troubled by regret and wished the atomic bombing had never happened. With the conviction that “No one else should ever have to suffer as we have,” Ms. Ikeda pursued legislation to support A-bomb survivors and submitted a petition to the Diet in 1956. That May, the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations was founded, and in August, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) was formed.

Ms. Ikeda talked about nuclear abolition to students who visited Hiroshima on school trips. She also visited the United States, Italy, China, and other countries to proactively appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons. For more than 60 years she has devoted herself to offering her testimony and promoting campaigns to support A-bomb survivors. She says, “I’ve had the bitter experience of being treated like I was put on a show. Nevertheless, I’ve continued to assert, without flinching, what I believe is right, even though my efforts are tiny, like throwing a small pebble into the ocean.” She now feels that all her work has been rewarded because the preamble to the new treaty expressly mentions the unacceptable suffering of the A-bomb survivors (hibakusha) as well as their efforts to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Toshiki Fujimori, 73, the assistant secretary general of Nihon Hidankyo, watched the very moment when the nuclear ban treaty was adopted in the assembly hall at United Nations headquarters in New York where the U.N. conference to negotiate the treaty took place. He flashed on the many A-bomb sufferers who died while pleading that there be no more victims of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Fujimori was just a year old and at a location about 2.3 kilometers from the hypocenter when the atomic bomb exploded above the city of Hiroshima. His fourth elder sister lost her life in the bombing and his third elder sister, Misao Nagoya, who wrote persistently about her A-bomb experience after the war, died in 1986 at the age of 56 without having had the opportunity to witness the abolition of nuclear arms.

“No More Hibakusha” is the passionate desire of all victims and survivors of the atomic bombings. On March 27, the first day of the treaty talks, Mr. Fujimori was given the chance to speak and he called on the governments of all participating nations to have the nuclear ban treaty reflect this fervent desire on the part of the hibakusha.

In his speech, Mr. Fujimori spoke about the people whose lives were instantly destroyed by the atomic bombs and were unable to leave behind a message for family members and other loved ones, as well as the A-bomb survivors who have long called for the abolition of all nuclear weapons despite their physical and mental suffering. He also talked about the cruel and catastrophic tragedy that occurred in Hiroshima 72 years ago and the long-lasting pain it has caused. When he finished speaking, his listeners responded with loud applause.

The NGOs from the nations that attended the conference have observed growing momentum for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Mr. Fujimori expressed his gratitude by saying that people all over the world are backing this movement. The four A-bomb survivors who attended the second round of U.N. talks, from June to July, as delegates from Nihon Hidankyo, traveled to New York with the support of online donations. Mr. Fujimori said, “Today marks another new beginning for our movement to realize the abolition of nuclear weapons. If there’s change in each person, then the whole world will surely change.”

The U.N. treaty to ban nuclear weapons was adopted on the evening of the star festival in Japan. Ms. Ikeda wrote on a strip of paper “I wish that the day when people join hands to seek a peaceful world will come soon” and attached this to a bamboo tree for the festival on display in the hospital.

Last month, Ms. Ikeda received a get-well card from a private school in Tokyo which she communicates with every year. The letter mentioned that the school staff and students have been waiting patiently to hear Ms. Ikeda’s testimony, and a picture of a flower made by the students, with fabric, was enclosed in the letter.

Ms. Ikeda is eager to resume sharing her A-bomb account, hoping to continue being of help. With encouragement from her doctor, she is now training her voice by reading aloud 26 A-4 size pages that recount her experience.

The small pebbles that A-bomb survivors have persistently tossed into the world have ultimately created quiet ripples all over the world. The word “hibakusha,” which has been included in the text of the treaty, is a clear testament to their efforts.

(Originally published on July 10, 2017)