NEW YORK – A Japanese atomic bomb survivor and an Aboriginal Australian who lived through multiple nuclear tests slammed their respective governments Tuesday for not participating in U.N. negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.
“I especially condemn the Japanese government’s inability to fully commit to these negotiations,” said Setsuko Thurlow, who lived through the atomic bomb blast on Aug. 6, 1945, that destroyed her hometown of Hiroshima.
“Indeed, yesterday morning the Japanese government official’s speech deepened hibakusha’s feelings of being continuously betrayed and abandoned by their own country,” she said in her speech during a session of the negotiations.
Thurlow referenced remarks made Monday by Japan’s disarmament ambassador Nobushige Takamizawa, who explained that Tokyo would not take part in the talks that got underway at U.N. headquarters this week.
Although Japan has said it wants a nuclear-weapon-free world, it had been vague in the lead-up to the conference about whether it would join the U.N. talks, reflecting its reliance on the U.S. nuclear deterrent for protection.
“Instead, they (the Japanese government) should take an independent position, which responds to the will of the Japanese people,” Thurlow stated.
The five nuclear weapon states — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — which are also permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have abstained from the conference, which aims to hammer out a landmark treaty that would outlaw nuclear weapons for the first time ever.
Thurlow called on the approximately 115 countries that are participating in the conference “to establish a clear new international standard to declare in no uncertain terms that nuclear weapons are illegitimate, immoral and illegal.”
Sue Coleman Haseldine, who spoke after Thurlow, described how as a small child she was impacted by the nuclear weapons testing that the British secretly carried out in the remote area of Maralinga beginning in the 1950s, which greatly affected her and her family.
In addition to high incidence of cancer in that area, there are currently efforts underway to set up nuclear waste dump sites which pose more hazards to her community.
“Together we need to connect the past, present and future and work towards a treaty to ban all nuclear weapons so there will be no new victims under a mushroom cloud,” she said in her speech.
“The treaty should acknowledge the permanent damage done to people, land and culture across generations and particularly for indigenous people worldwide.”
She added, “I am actually ashamed of (the Australian government)” for not attending the conference. She stressed the government had a moral responsibility to participate in light of the testing, adding that her country was a producer of uranium used for atomic bombs.
Australia, like Japan, operates under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
Meanwhile, Mexico’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Jorge Lomonaco, whose country — along with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Nigeria and South Africa — has led the treaty efforts, said the survivors’ remarks were invaluable to the conference.
“It was incredibly moving and a very important reminder of why we are here,” he said. “We are here for them and because of them and we owe it to them.”
Canadian Member of Parliament, Linda Duncan, who was attending the conference as a co-chair of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Disarmament, was particularly struck by Thurlow’s speech.
“I think it is pretty clear that the most powerful voice we have heard over these two days is hers,” she said.
Duncan also expressed disappointment in her country for not participating and said she has asked Thurlow, who lives in Canada, to meet with interested politicians in the near future.
The first session of the negotiations ends Friday. A second session is to be held in New York starting mid-June, with a treaty hoped to be hammered out by July.