By Santo D. Banerjee
NEW YORK (IDN) – The International Day against Nuclear Tests (IDANT) has been observed around the world on August 29 since 2010. A new element was added this year when President of the 72nd session of the General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák, convened a high-level plenary meeting on September 6 "to commemorate and promote" this landmark Day and the Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty.
Delegates from member states of the United Nations evoked the catastrophic consequences and suffering caused by the testing and use of nuclear weapons, and called upon countries that have not done so to sign – and ratify – the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty (CTBT), in limbo for 22 years.
IDANT is devoted to enhancing public awareness and education about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions and the need for their cessation as one of the means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
Its origins go back to the unanimous adoption of the General Assembly resolution by on December 2, 2009, which embodied the culmination of efforts by Kazakhstan and many other like-minded countries to acknowledge the vital importance of the decision made by President Nursultan Nazarbayev to close the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on August 29, 1991.
More than 450 nuclear test explosions were conducted at this site between 1949 – the year of the first nuclear test by the now defunct Soviet Union – and 1989. Following the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, one of the first decisions of the newly independent Republic of Kazakhstan was to renounce nuclear weapons and transfer its inherited arsenal to the Russian Federation.
"This was bold leadership in an uncertain time, and demonstrated that a nation's national security need not be based on the possession of weapons of mass destruction," noted Dr. Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in his keynote address on September 6.
"Kazakhstan's leading role in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament issues continues to this day, and we should be thankful for the example it has provided," he added.
All the more so because the potential consequences of nuclear testing have been underlined by the first-hand accounts of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from survivors – the Hibakusha – highlighting the horrors of the use of nuclear weapons in warfare.
Besides, nuclear testing has fuelled the nuclear arms race, producing increasingly sophisticated and powerful weapons that could be delivered anywhere in the world with incredible speed and precision.
"Because of the CTBT, we have transitioned away from a world in which nuclear tests were carried out with near impunity," noted Dr. Zerbo.
Since the CTBT opened for signature in 1996, 183 States have signed the Treaty, of which 166 have ratified. Only three countries have violated this norm since 1996, and only one country – North Korea – has tested nuclear weapons this century.
But the Treaty will not be a "complete success" until it enters into force and is universalized. "This is why the International Day against Nuclear Tests must not only be for remembrance and reflection. It must also be a call for action," the CTBTO Executive Secretary said. Eight remaining States that need to ratify the CTBT to achieve its entry into force: China, the DPRK, Egypt, India, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, and the United States.
The other keynote speaker at the General Assembly's high-level plenary meeting was Karipbek Kuyukov, The ATOM Project's Honorary Ambassador and a prominent artist and victim of nuclear tests. The ATOM Project is an international campaign designed to do more than create awareness surrounding the human and environmental devastation caused by nuclear weapons testing.
The aim, according to Kuyukov, is to unify world support against nuclear weapons testing and reinvigorate a global dialogue about its dangers, and Influence the world’s leaders to permanently stop nuclear weapons testing.
Kuyukov shared with delegates from UN member nations his life account of the devastating consequences of nuclear weapons. He told them that he was born in 1968 without arms into an ordinary Kazakh family in a small village, located 100 kilometres from the former nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk.
The USSR [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics] carried out its first tests of nuclear weapons there, and a thousand families – ethnic Kazakhs living on the land allocated for the test site – fell hostage to radiation exposure, he said. “My family still remembers how our house was shaken when a radiation wave from the regular explosion passed under us,” he added, calling upon leaders of all countries to sign and ratify the CTBT.
The representative of Kazakhstan added that more than 1.5 million Kazakh victims of Soviet nuclear tests conducted on his country's territory are still experiencing the horrors. By celebrating the International Day, Kazakhstan raises its voice for its own victims as well as those in Japan, the Marshall Islands and all the other places where people have suffered and continue to suffer. Nuclear weapons are incompatible with a peaceful and secure future, he emphasized. "No one in the world should have to repeat and suffer like we have," he added, urging the "remaining minority" to ratify the Treaty.
Addressing the high-level meeting, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized the importance of remembering victims of the "disastrous era" of nuclear testing, saying that its catastrophic consequences have had a serious impact on human health and the environment. Nuclear tests conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have demonstrated that every effort must be made to ensure the Treaty enters into force, he added.
Guterres said: "The legacy of more than 2,000 nuclear tests has touched people and communities in many regions, from the residents of Semipalatinsk and the steppe of Kazakhstan, to South Pacific islanders and the Maralinga Tjarutja people of South Australia." They include some of the world’s most vulnerable communities in some of the most fragile areas of the planet from the environmental point of view.
Every effort must be made to bring about the immediate entry into force of the CTBT, he added. The CTBT has an essential role within the nuclear disarmament and non- proliferation regime. By constraining the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons, the Treaty puts a brake on the nuclear arms race. That is the reason for expediting its entry into force.
General Assembly President Lajčák underlined the huge price paid for the testing and use of nuclear weapons, pointing out that, in addition to cancer, disability and death, nuclear testing also presents a major political risk. "Simply put, these tests do not build trust. Instead, they escalate tensions. They create openings for political miscalculations. And they bring us closer to the brink," he said.
Speaking on behalf of the African Group, Ambassador Lazarus Amayo, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the UN, said nuclear testing has had devastating effects on humanity and the environment, expressing support for the principle of complete nuclear disarmament as the utmost prerequisite for international peace and security. The African Group, he said, is deeply concerned about the slow pace of progress towards the elimination of all nuclear weapons. Calling upon all States to work towards the actualization of the Treaty's goals, he also underlined the inalienable rights of States to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
The representative of Oman, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, refuted the notion that the possession of nuclear weapons is a deterrent to war. Although the Middle East is a region of much tension and instability, Arab countries have demonstrated their commitment to the implementation of a verification system, he said, pointing out that, meanwhile, Israel continues to defy the will of the international community by refusing to respect the rules defined by the Treaty.
The representative of Australia, speaking on behalf of the Friends of the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty, said that the very existence of this International Day is a testament to the de facto norm against nuclear testing. Welcoming advances made by the CTBTO in ensuring that the instrument's verification regime is robust and world‑class, she urged all States that have not yet done so, especially the remaining eight to sign and ratify the Treaty without delay.
Speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Ambassador Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr., Permanent Representative of the Philippines, denounced the conduct of nuclear-weapon testing or any other nuclear explosions. He reiterated ASEAN's commitment to remaining a zone free of nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction. As specified under article 3 of the Bangkok Treaty, each State party undertakes not to allow, anywhere inside its territory, the testing or use of nuclear weapons.
The representative of the European Union delegation said the response of the CTBTO to the six nuclear tests conducted by the DPRK demonstrated its invaluable role in quickly providing reliable and independent data, thereby enabling the international community to react appropriately and swiftly.
As a strong supporter of the international nuclear non‑proliferation and disarmament regime, the European Union hopes that the positive momentum will bring about tangible progress leading to the verifiable closure of that country's nuclear test sites. Noting that all of the bloc’s member States have signed and ratified the Treaty, she added that the International Day highlights the urgent need for the Treaty’s entry into force. [IDN-InDepthNews – 07 September 2018]
Photo: Karipbek Kuyukov, Artist and The ATOM Project Honorary Ambassador addresses the UN General Assembly on September 6, 2018. Credit: CTBTO.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
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