OSLO – A group campaigning for a total ban on nuclear weapons received its Nobel Peace Prize on Sunday, the recognition coming at a time of stalled disarmament talks and major global concern over North Korea’s provocative weapons tests.
Members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, led by Executive Director Beatrice Fihn, received the prize at the Nobel ceremony in Oslo for efforts leading to the adoption in July of the U.N. treaty outlawing nuclear weapons.
The treaty “provides the pathway forward at a moment of great global crisis. It is a light in a dark time,” Fihn said in a speech as she accepted the award with Setsuko Thurlow, 85, who witnessed the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima at age 13 and now lives in Canada.
Thurlow has often spoken out at the United Nations about her experiences as a hibakusha, urging governments to ratify the nuclear weapons ban treaty.
“These (nuclear) weapons are not a necessary evil, they are the ultimate evil,” Thurlow said. “We hibakusha had been waiting for the ban for 72 years. Let this be the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.”
The Geneva-based nongovernmental organization worked with survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including Thurlow, in a campaign to create the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
The treaty was adopted with the support of 122 U.N. members but came without backing from the five major nuclear powers and permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
Japan and other countries relying on nuclear deterrence for protection also failed to endorse the treaty.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said in announcing the award in October that this year’s prize is a call for nuclear weapons states and their closest allies “to initiate serious negotiations with a view to the gradual, balanced and carefully monitored elimination of the almost 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world.”
Major challenges remain, however, with North Korea continuing its pursuit of munitions capable of delivering nuclear warheads and regularly test-firing intercontinental ballistic missiles as part of that program. Meanwhile, arms reduction talks between Russia and the United States have stalled, with U.S. President Donald Trump openly stating plans to bolster and modernize America’s deadly arsenal.
Fihn said Saturday that the 9 million Swedish kronor ($1 million) prize will be used to set up a fund to strengthen efforts to quickly bring the nuclear weapons ban treaty into force, which requires ratification by at least 50 nations.
Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue and A-bomb survivors Terumi Tanaka, 85, and Toshiki Fujimori, 73, who are also senior members of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, as well as Akira Kawasaki, an ICAN international steering committee member, also attended the ceremony.
Thurlow and other hibakusha and activists have criticized Japan, the only country attacked with nuclear weapons, for not joining the treaty negotiations.
It is the first time in eight years that a Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to an entity or a person related to nuclear disarmament. The last, U.S. President Barack Obama, was given the honor in 2009 for his calls for a nuclear-free world.
ICAN, founded in 2007, is a coalition of NGOs that involves about 470 groups from more than 100 countries, with Japan’s Peace Boat one of its major steering group members.