Peace Garden, Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto | August 6, 2018
One year ago, on July 7, 2017 at the United Nations in New York, 122 nations took a bold, historic step when the delegates voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The Treaty filled a gaping hole in international law, providing a comprehensive prohibition on the last weapons of mass destruction to be declared illegal; the only weapons that could not only end all of us, but deny future generations the very possibility of being born.
When the voting results were displayed I felt stunned and speechless with tears of joy welling in my eyes, and in the din of the thunderous applause I realized the significance of the event. I intuitively shared my euphoria with those massacred indiscriminately in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 72 years before, to whom we made a vow that their deaths would not be in vain, that we would commit our lives to ensure that their experience would not be repeated by any other human beings.
The conference chair gave me an opportunity to offer concluding remarks. With great conviction I declared “Nuclear weapons have always been immoral, now they are illegal! This is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons! Let us move forward together and change the world!”
The Treaty opened for signatures at the United Nations on September 20, 2017 and the second signing ceremony will be opened this September 26th. We are now up to 59 signatories and 14 ratifications from diverse regions. When the 50th nation ratifies the TPNW it will enter into force. The pace of ratifications may seem slow, but experts tell us that it has been faster than for any other treaty related to weapons of mass destruction, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
The Treaty Coordinator reports that parliamentary, departmental and legislative processes towards joining the Treaty are well underway in many countries in Africa, Latin America, South East Asia and the Pacific. Recently Switzerland’s first chamber of parliament voted to join the TPNW, and New Zealand’s Cabinet has ratified the Treaty just a few days ago. The European Parliament has repeatedly recommended that all 28 EU member states sign and ratify the Treaty.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, is a coalition of 468 civil society organizations in 101 nations. ICAN has played a leading role, working with 122 nations, in developing the Ban Treaty, and ICAN is now dedicated to seeing the implementation of the Treaty.
Tireless ICAN campaigners around the world have been engaged in a variety of activities to promote the TPNW and press the governments to ratify the Treaty. In Europe there were protests at the governments of Britain and Spain, protest at the NATO summit in Brussels, and protest at the
Helsinki summit between the presidents of the two nuclear super powers, who control 90% of all nuclear weapons between them. There have also been blockades of U.S. nuclear bases in Germany. After months of campaigning the Church of England Synod voted to support the nuclear ban treaty. We recall that the Holy See was one of the first to ratify the Treaty.
Around the Pacific, there has been a press conference in Singapore with ICAN’s clear roadmap to the elimination of nuclear weapons. In Australia protests have broken out against US weapons manufacturers investing in Australian universities. In Japan over 320 municipal and prefectural governments, 20% of all such governments, have given their support for the TPNW and demanded that the national government play a leadership role.
Another aspect of the campaigners’ action involves the divestment of funds from nuclear weapons manufacturing. Since the Treaty’s adoption, the Norwegian Pension Fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund with assets over US$ 1 trillion, the largest Dutch pension fund ABP, Deutsche Bank, and major Belgian bank KBC have announced that they will exclude from their investments companies that produce nuclear weapons.
Lastly but most importantly, what has our city, Toronto, been doing to ensure that the TPNW will come into force? In April, the Toronto Board of Health and City Council both unanimously agreed to “request the Government of Canada
to sign the United Nations Treaty of the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”. In addition, City Council has re-affirmed that Toronto is a nuclear weapons-free zone.
In December I was elated and humbled to co-accept the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of ICAN for our “work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and our “ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”. The TPNW combined with the Nobel Peace Prize have become a powerful force to further stigmatize nuclear weapons and their possession.
Thus far Canada has not supported, or even participated in, this U.N. Treaty. In a democracy we believe that citizens have a right to be listened to by the government, and the government has the responsibility to protect its citizens. 79% of Torontonians have expressed a desire for a world without nuclear weapons. Canada must return to its legacy of global peace building and be on the right side of history by ratifying the Treaty.