Abolition 2000 – Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons
UNSG Ban Ki-moon viewing art of nuclear victim Karipbek Kuyukov at the UN commemoration

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon viewing art of nuclear victim Karipbek Kuyukov at the UN commemoration

In a powerful panel on 10 September, various speakers at the United Nations including the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) himself, highlighted the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons detonations, called for the entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and promoted global nuclear abolition.

The event commemorated the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, which was established by the UN General Assembly at the suggestion of the government of Kazakhstan. The official commemoration date is 29 August, the anniversary of the closure of the Soviet nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk following a successful civil society campaign.

UNSG Ban Ki-moon noted that nuclear tests have ‘devastated pristine environments and local populations around the world,’ that ‘the best way to honour the victims of past tests is to prevent any in the future’ and that this day should ‘send a strong signal that the international community stands untied to take action that will lead us to a safer and more secure world – a world free of nuclear weapons.’ (watch the video of his speech)

Kazakhstan Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov highlighted the possibility to abolish nuclear weapons, citing the example of his country which not only closed down the Soviet nuclear test site, but also the nuclear weapons sites in Kazakhstan where over 1500 nuclear weapons had been deployed. Kazakhstan banned nuclear weapons from their territory and negotiated a Central Asian nuclear weapon free zone with its neighbours. Ambassador Abdrakhmanov also paid tribute to Karipbek Kuyukov, who travelled from Kazakhstan to New York for the event. Karipbek is a second generation victim of nuclear tests who is the Honorary Ambassador for the ATOM Project, a global education campaign to end nuclear tests and promote a nuclear-weapon-free world.

UN commemoration event for the International Day Against Nuclear Tests

UN commemoration event for the International Day Against Nuclear Tests

Ira Helfand, from the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, noted that the impact of nuclear tests (which were conducted in remote areas) provides only a glimpse of the catastrophic consequences that would result from the use of nuclear weapons in wartime – which would be against military targets and cities. The firestorms created by just a small number of such detonations would ‘loft millions of tons of soot into the upper atmosphere blocking out the sun for more than a decade. The resulting climate disruption and the catastrophic decline in food production will cause a global famine that will put 2 billion people at risk. Two billion dead is not the extinction of our species, but it is the end of modern civilization. No civilization in history has survived a shock of this magnitude, and ours will not either… This is the danger we face. It is not the future that must be, but it is the future that will be if we don’t eliminate nuclear weapons.’ (watch the video of his speech)

Nuclear test near Kiritimati Island (Christmas Island) in Kiribati

Nuclear test near Kiritimati Island (Christmas Island) in Kiribati

Kiribati Ambassador Makurita Baaro recalled one evening in Kiribati in 1962 when he watched in awe as ‘a sudden flash of orange light rushed up into a mushroom cloud high in the sky and then lit up the sky, bright orange. There was a flurry of birds, most of which fell dead to the ground, and the villagers ran to the church saying their Hail Mary.’ He was seeing a nuclear test at the other end of the Kiribati islands – thousands of kilometres away. ‘Today our communities still suffer the long-term impacts of the tests, experiencing higher rates of cancer, especially thyroid cancer, due to exposure to radiation.’

Ambassador Baaro noted that the Pacific Island countries, based on their experience and awareness of the consequences of nuclear weapons, banned them through the South Pacific Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty, without waiting for agreement by the nuclear-weapon States. He also highlighted that the Pacific Islands, and other low countries, now face an existential threat from climate change which he labelled as ‘another weapon of mass destruction’. As leaders prepare to come to New York for the Climate Summit, he urged nuclear-armed States to end the waste of billions of dollars on nuclear weapons and re-direct it to addressing climate change. ‘Our people have been left for collateral damage in the name of testing nuclear weapons… The potential for our people to continue to be left behind is a very real one unless urgent global action is taken to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction.’

Informal Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to mark the 2015 Observance of the International Day against Nuclear Tests

Video presentations:

Written speeches: