Thursday, 27 February 2020

A World Free Of Nuclear Weapons

Written by Dr Deidre Palmer, President

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be bearers of God’s peace. We are called to be an alternative voice to narratives of violence, destruction and hatred, It was in the light of this vocation for peace, that the Uniting Church hosted an interfaith roundtable on the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on Monday 24 February.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) began in Australia and grew into a global organisation that was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for their ground-breaking efforts towards achieving a global treaty that will ban nuclear weapons.

This important and unfinished work continues, and so it was a great opportunity for the Uniting Church to assist ICAN to host an interfaith roundtable at our offices in Sydney. The Uniting Church has been a partner of ICAN’s for many years, and we have consistently highlighted the catastrophic impact of nuclear weapons and called for them to be eliminated.

It was a privilege to gather with 25 representatives of different Christian denominations and other faith groups, including Jewish and Buddhist organisations, who share a common commitment to peacemaking.  

The gathering was an opportunity to be brought up to date with the campaign toward the global ban on nuclear weapons and to look at the ways people of faith can work in our own organisations and collaboratively toward a more peaceful world.

Thanks largely to the efforts of ICAN and the International Red Cross movement, the United Nations (UN) Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted in July 2017, with the support of 122 nations. To date 81 nations have signed and 35 ratified the treaty. Australia is yet to sign on.

The Treaty will come into force after the 50th ratification, which is expected within 18 months. Despite this, the threat of nuclear warfare is growing. There are close to 14,000 nuclear weapons held by nine nations, posing a persistent and grave threat to humanity.

In recent times, nuclear armed states have delivered open threats to use nuclear weapons. Instead of reducing the number of weapons, they are investing $100 billion a year in upgrades. We heard from Hollie Johnston of Australian Red Cross about how the use of nuclear weapons does not comply with international humanitarian law.

When the nuclear bombs fell on Hiroshima in 1945 the Japanese Red Cross Hospital was one of the few buildings that remained standing after the blasts killed tens of thousands of people and left behind appalling conditions for survivors.

“If a nuclear weapon is detonated, there is no viable emergency response,” Hollie told us. “The injuries sustained are life-long and intergenerational.” Vanessa Griffen, a Fijian-Australian campaigner, spoke to us about the detrimental impact of nuclear testing in small island nations across the Pacific.

She shared with us the instrumental role played by Church leaders in the Pacific in supporting and leading the advocacy against nuclear testing. 

We also heard from ICAN Australia Director Gem Romuld and board members Dr Sue Wareham, Daryl Le Cornu and Ambassador Robert Tickner about their advocacy in Australia, with a key focus on Australia signing the UN Treaty.

Despite large public support for signing the treaty, the Australian Government is yet to make this commitment. One of the reasons given for this is our military alliance with the US. However, such an alliance could still stand without the reliance on nuclear weapons.  

Under both Coalition and Labor Governments, Australia has played an important and leading role in other treaties banning unacceptable weapons, such as landmines and biological and chemical weapons, without harming our military partnerships.

ICAN notes: “Australia has no legitimacy on this issue until it signs this treaty, we cannot say we support a world without nuclear weapons while not signing this treaty.”

There is much we can do to support the move to eliminate nuclear weapons (see some ideas below) and it starts with raising awareness with others. During our time together, we passed the Nobel Peace Prize medal around the room, each having the opportunity to hold it in our hands.

I appreciated the words of Fr Patrick McInerney, from the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim relations. “Together, we hold the future of the world in our hands. Let us work together for the prohibition of nuclear weapons, which threaten the survival of life on our common home.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • Speak to your MP about making a Parliamentary Pledge welcoming the adoption of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. ICAN lists all the signatories. If your MP has already signed, you might write to thank them. https://icanw.org.au/pledge/
  • Encourage your local council to join the ICAN Cities Appeal declaring their commitment to the treaty and calling on Australia to sign. https://icanw.org.au/cities/
  • Learn more about why Australia should sign on the treaty and what that will mean. https://icanw.org.au/choosinghumanity/
  • Watch and Share this video from Red Cross “What would you choose in a nuclear attack. To live or die?” portraying the grave threat nuclear weapons pose to all life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yr5yh1O5mnA