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Report from the second conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons

February 14, 2014

Amidst the sun and surf of Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, governments, international organizations, and civil society are gathering the 13-14 February for a very sober conference. WILPF is of course there, and we will be examining the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

Picture of WILPF’s Disarmament team. From left; Mia Gandenberger, Beatrice Fihn, Joy Ada Onyesoh of WILPF Nigeria, Gabriella Irsten and Ray Acheson.

WILPF’s Disarmament team is present at the conference in Mexico. From left; Mia Gandenberger, Beatrice Fihn, Joy Ada Onyesoh of WILPF Nigeria, Gabriella Irsten and Ray Acheson.

We will hear testimony from survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we will hear from experts about the effects of a nuclear detonation on the environment, economies, weather, and crops. And from civil society and others, we will hear about the urgent demand for political and legal action to prevent any possible use of nuclear weapons by banning and eliminating them once and for all.

This is the second conference to be held in the last year on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. In March 2013, Norway hosted the first conference on this subject. And yesterday morning, on the first day of the conference, the government of Austria announced that it would host a third conference to continue the dialogue!

This is extremely exciting news, because it means that governments are serious about carrying forward this discussion despite complaints by nuclear-armed states that this subject is “distracting” and naïve. The majority of countries and civil society groups are newly reclaiming our place in the debate on nuclear weapons. No longer accepting that these weapons are good for “strategic stability,” we are highlighting their devastating and unacceptable effects and demanding concrete action to ensure such catastrophes are prevented forever.

Picture of Gabriella Irsten, Joy Ada Onyesoh and Ray Acheson sitting behind a conference table.

Three members of WILPF’s Disarmament Team spotted at the conference in Mexico. From left; Gabriella Irsten, Joy Ada Onyesoh and Ray Acheson.

Last year at the Oslo conference, participants concluded that the detonation of nuclear weapons has devastating immediate and long-term effects locally and globally and that no state or international body could adequately address these effects. The government of Mexico is hosting this second conference to draw attention to some of the long-term effects on nuclear weapons, including on economics and development, displacement of populations, food production, and more. It will also address the risk of the use of nuclear weapons. Concepts like “nuclear deterrence” make some governments want to keep them and others seek to acquire them, but the concept relies on willingness to use nuclear weapons. 17,000 nuclear weapons remain in the hands of just a few states that refuse to comply with the overwhelming demand from the rest of the world that they eliminate these weapons.

Screens showed Beatrice Fihn speaking

Programme Manager Beatrice Fihn speaking on one of the panels.

146 governments have registered to attend the conference in Mexico. UN agencies, other international organisations, academics, and civil society are also actively participating, bringing their expertise and experience to bear on the discussion. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is coordinating civil society’s participation in this meeting. ICAN advocates for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, with the belief that categorically prohibiting a weapon can facilitate its elimination. Nuclear weapons are the only weapon of mass destruction not subject to a prohibition. Now is the time to address this exemption. The announcement of the next meeting in Vienna on this humanitarian framework indicates a willingness amongst states to move from a discussion about the impacts of nuclear weapons to a discussion about what must be done to make sure they can never be used again.

As mentioned, WILPF is represented at the conference by our Reaching Critical Will team. They are all there—Ray, Beatrice, Gabriella, and Mia—and Joy of WILPF Nigeria has joined them.

Beatrice will be speaking on one of the panels and Ray will deliver the closing statement on behalf of civil society.

We also be Tweeting during the conference at #goodbyenukes and #hinw14 and will release a report after the conference is over. You can also live stream the conference.

Over the past two days, the WILPF team has been participating in the ICAN campaigners’ meeting to discuss our advocacy strategy and build our knowledge and commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons. You can see pictures and stories from the meeting at goodbyenuk.es.

Now that the intergovernmental conference has begun, we will be speaking on panels, talking with government representatives, and working together with the over 100 activists from ICAN to build momentum and confidence for a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

It’s time to ban the bomb!

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