NEW YORK – Survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Friday presented a petition with nearly 3 million signatures to U.N. officials as a conference to negotiate the world’s first nuclear weapons ban treaty got underway.
Toshiyuki Mimaki, 75, and Masako Wada, 73 — survivors, respectively, of the Hiroshima bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, and the Nagasaki bombing three days later — handed over the signatures and an accompanying letter to Costa Rican Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez, who serves as chair of the three-week conference that began on Thursday.
A group of hibakusha living in Japan and abroad began a campaign last spring to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Japan Confederation of A-and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo).
“We collected about 3 million signatures,” Wada, Hidankyo’s assistant secretary general, told Gomez as she presented a red paper crane made by her elderly relative. “She encouraged us to collect more and more signatures. We are trying.”
Called the “appeal of the hibakusha,” the grass-roots movement has garnered significant support. It aims to gather hundreds of millions of signatures by 2020 so that survivors — whose numbers are dwindling — will see the destructive devices banned in their lifetimes.
Mimaki, who shed tears during the encounter with Gomez, personally invited her to Hiroshima as Izumi Nakamitsu, the newly appointed undersecretary general and high representative for disarmament affairs, stood at her side.
“It absolutely inspires me to work harder, but also to remember this is not something that we are doing because it’s an intellectual process,” Gomez said after meeting. “This is a human process, and we need to do it because it touches the lives of people.”
Gomez, who is based in Geneva, visited Nagasaki last April. She went to the atomic bomb museum and memorial and met with hibakusha and the city’s mayor.
In describing Friday’s encounter, which she called an “emotional one,” Gomez recalled her visit to Nagasaki and said the experience “touched me very deeply” and “increased my commitment to the work that we are undertaking.”
In the letter handed over along with the signatures, the group calls for the adoption of the treaty.
“We call on the conference to adopt the convention on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, thereby to mark a historic step forward for prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons,” said the letter, which was addressed to Gomez, Nakamitsu and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. “International conflicts and heightened tensions cited by nuclear-armed states and their allies as reasons for their opposition to the convention should instead be reasons for promoting the prohibition of nuclear weapons.”
Just as in the previous round, the major nuclear-armed states — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — are not taking part in the latest session. Japan, Germany and South Korea, which don’t have nuclear weapons but rely on the U.S. for nuclear deterrence, are also sitting out.
The submission of the signatures was lauded by participants from nongovernmental organizations, who believe in the importance of a strong show of support.
“The voices of the public conscience and survivors and victims of weapons are supposed to play a crucial role in how we deal with them, so the voices of hibakusha and survivors of nuclear weapons use testing and production should be at the core of what we are doing here,” said Matthew Bolton, director of the International Disarmament Institution at Pace University. “This should be a humane and humanitarian and human rights driven process and so it is really encouraging that people are speaking out and the conference is receiving their petition.”
The conference concludes on July 7 with the aim of producing the landmark treaty. On the conference’s second day, the delegates continued to go through the draft text paragraph by paragraph with the goal of working toward a revised draft that is to be circulated next week.
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