Peace center ex-leader continues antinuke fight

Kyodo

Steven Leeper, the first non-Japanese to have led the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, will continue to lobby for the abolition of nuclear weapons following his resignation from the chairman’s post in March.

“Japan has a mission to lead human beings to a nuclear-free world,” the Leeper said. “Hiroshima in particular should be the leader of any related move.”

Leeper, 65, stepped down as chairman of the foundation, which operates the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, at the end of March after serving for six years.

A native of Illinois, Leeper first came to Japan as a boy due to his father’s business and lived in Tokyo for five years.

He returned to Japan in 1973 and worked as an English language instructor while at the same time learning Japanese. He settled in Hiroshima in 1984 and established a translation and interpretation company two years later.

Back then, “I was not particularly interested (in peace activities),” Leeper said.

He said he learned about the devastation caused by the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 while helping translate collections of interviews by survivors of those blasts.

This led him to become involved in peace activities.

In 2007, Leeper was asked by then Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, with whom he became acquainted during the course of peace activities, to lead the city-backed entity.

Taking advantage of his strong ties with antinuclear nongovernmental organizations and U.N.-affiliated bodies, Leeper helped increase the number of member cities of the Mayors for Peace to 5,500, about three times as many as when he became chairman.

The Mayors for Peace is a global movement of mayors, initiated by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which seeks to raise awareness of the need to abolish nuclear weapons.

Leeper has been keeping an eye on movements rising among nonnuclear nations and NGOs toward conclusion of the Nuclear Weapons Convention, a treaty on the total ban of nuclear weapons that has yet to be adopted.

As one such movement, the former chief welcomed the Norwegian government’s hosting in its capital, Oslo, in March of the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons conference.

“We may not be able to eliminate nuclear weapons so soon, but we can at least ban them,” he said.

But representatives of the five major nuclear powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, which hold a combined 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons — did not attend the Oslo conference, citing the impact of their approaches toward nuclear disarmament.

Leeper said, however, “Nuclear nations won’t stop this ongoing movement (toward abolition).”

“If the majority of nations around the world approves it, it would become a global common sense,” he said.

After a brief stay in the U.S., Leeper will return in September to teach at a university in Hiroshima.