Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to ICAN, international NGO that played key role in establishing nuclear weapons ban treaty

by Kohei Okata and Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writers

On October 6, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an international non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Geneva, Switzerland. The committee recognized ICAN for advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons through its cooperation with the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and civilian groups, and for making vital contributions for the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July. The committee commended ICAN for its work in drawing attention to the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons and calling for their elimination, and also encouraged the nuclear-armed states to pursue stronger efforts to advance nuclear abolition.

Explaining the basis for bestowing this award, the committee pointed to the humanitarian consequences if a nuclear weapon is used. Citing North Korea and its drive to develop nuclear weapons as an example, the committee said that there was a real danger that more countries would seek to procure nuclear arms. In addition, it called on the nuclear nations to initiate serious negotiations for eliminating their arsenals.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the committee, said that this year’s Peace Prize was intended to honor the contributions made by all individuals and groups that are working for the goal of nuclear abolition. In the statement it released, ICAN wrote: “It is a tribute also to the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” At a press conference, Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of ICAN, said that she would like the A-bomb survivors to also take part in the awards ceremony, which will be held in Oslo, Norway on December 10. The prize money is 9 million Swedish Krona (about 124 million yen).

Sunao Tsuboi, 92, chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Prefectural Hidankyo) and co-chairperson of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), welcomed the news by saying, “I’m pleased that ICAN received the prize as both of us have been working for the same goal. As long as I live, I will continue appealing for a peaceful world without nuclear weapons.”

ICAN is an international organization made up of NGOs from around the world. From Japan, groups such as the Japan branch of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), which has an office at the Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association, and a Hiroshima-based youth group called “Project Now” are part of ICAN. Akira Kawasaki, an executive committee member of Peace Boat, a Tokyo-based NGO, serves as a member of ICAN’s International Steering Group, which is the organization’s core working group.

ICAN was established in 2007, led by Tilman Ruff, an Australian doctor working for IPPNW, and other members. They formed the organization after being inspired by NGOs engaged in ground-breaking work to draw international attention to the danger of landmines, which resulted in the establishment of the landmine ban treaty.

While an increasing number of people have come to support the idea that nuclear weapons are inhumane and should be prohibited, ICAN facilitated this discussion by calling for the urgent establishment of a nuclear weapons ban treaty, even without the involvement of the nuclear powers, and persuaded the governments of other nations to back this aim. The organization also persisted in campaigns to raise awareness among the public, such as holding sessions in some countries to discuss outlawing nuclear weapons, as well as organizing an international conference in Hiroshima in August 2012.

When the negotiations to establish the nuclear weapons ban treaty took place this year, ICAN worked hand-in-hand with the survivors of the Hiroshima bombing and the two Hiroshima Prefectural Hidankyo groups and helped bolster international public opinion for the treaty.

The treaty will enter into force with the ratification of 50 countries and regions. But the nuclear-armed nations, as well as Japan, which relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its security, refuse to sign it. Pressure on the A-bombed nation, by people in and out of Japan, will likely grow.

Creating favorable conditions to promote the treaty

Comment by Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui: This esteemed prize has been given to our influential comrades who have clearly heard the wishes of the A-bomb survivors and are taking action at a grassroots level. Though current conditions in the world remain difficult, this news helps the public see that the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons from the world is valued and recognized. I would like to extend my congratulations. This development now creates favorable conditions that will aid us in our efforts to promote the treaty.

Hoping for stronger momentum for nuclear abolition

Comment by Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki: I’m very happy to hear that ICAN has won the Nobel Peace Prize because this organization has made important grassroots efforts to establish a treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons. I would like to commend these efforts once again. I now have high hopes that ICAN’s prize will help strengthen momentum for abolishing nuclear weapons and provide the opportunity for the nations of the world to make progress toward that goal. I believe this will also lend a boost to Hiroshima Prefecture’s efforts to advance the abolition of nuclear arms.


International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)
International organization, now based in Geneva, Switzerland, that began its activities in Melbourne, Australia in 2007. Consists of 468 NGOs from 101 nations, including five Japanese groups: Human Rights Now, Japan branch of IPPNW, Peace Boat, Physicians against Nuclear War, and Project Now. Mayors for Peace (chaired by Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui) is also an international partner. In addition to its efforts to establish the nuclear weapons ban treaty, ICAN is pursuing various projects, including a project to end investments and government spending involving the nuclear weapons industry.

(Originally published on October 7, 2017)