Thousands rally for abolition of nukes as hibakusha ranks thin


Atomic bomb survivors from Japan and peace campaigners from around the world marched through the streets of New York on Sunday to push for the abolition of nuclear weapons on the eve of a U.N. nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation conference.

Around 7,500 people carrying banners and signs chanted “No nukes!” and “No more Hiroshima!” and other slogans as they walked about 3 km toward the United Nations, where the conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was to start Monday.

Although observers say it will not be easy for NPT members to produce a final document by consensus amid differences on the issues, aging atomic bomb survivors hope the discussions will bring nuclear weapons abolition within sight.

At a rally held ahead of the parade, Yuko Nakamura, who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945, recalled that more than 200 students at her school died when the United States dropped the bomb. She was 13 years old at the time.

“The students were ready to die for their country (because it was wartime), but, deep down, they wanted to live. . . . I want you to know that an atomic bomb will destroy a city instantly and take away people’s lives with no mercy. It is not something that can be allowed from a humanitarian point of view,” she said.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui also joined the rally. “Now is the time to transform your power into a concrete movement to create a world without nuclear weapons,” he told the participants.

Toward the end of the event, more than 7 million signatures on petitions from Japan and other countries seeking negotiations to eliminate the world’s nuclear arsenals were submitted to Taous Feroukhi, the Algerian ambassador who will chair the NPT review conference, and Angela Kane, top U.N. official for disarmament affairs. The conference will continue through May 22.

“We really must renew our commitment to carry the heavy torch of responsibility for achieving this goal — a world free of nuclear weapons,” Kane said, noting that the average age of the A-bomb survivors is close to 80.

Some participants said they were disappointed with the turnout and the drop in younger participants.

Kim Bergier, a 64-year-old activist of the Michigan Stop the Nuclear Bombs Campaign, said she felt the overall number was “not big enough” compared with 2010, when the previous NPT review conference was held.

“I feel a stronger commitment for those who do show up . . . but there are also too many gray hairs, there are too many hibakusha that this will be the last time we’ll probably see them,” she said.