Japanese high school peace ambassadors were not allowed to deliver speeches at the U.N. Conference on Disarmament underway in Geneva, Switzerland, this year.
Japanese high school peace ambassadors first delivered speeches at the meeting three years ago, as an exceptional measure. However, countries represented at the meeting did not unanimously agree to allow the youths to do so this year. Apparently some nations had raised questions about the students being granted a special exception to speak.
True, it is unusual for private citizens to deliver speeches on the occasion of such intergovernmental negotiations. However, the speeches had become a regular practice because most countries represented at the conference agreed that it was significant for high school students from Japan, the only atomic-bombed country, to convey the voices of atomic-bombing survivors, or hibakusha, to the world and call for nuclear disarmament.
It is regrettable that Japanese high school students were deprived of such a precious opportunity.
The Japanese high school peace ambassadors have each year collected signatures in petitions calling for nuclear disarmament from high school students across the country, and have handed the petitions over to the United Nations. This year, the 20th year of the campaign, 214,300 signatures were collected. In 2014, they were allowed to deliver speeches at the Conference on Disarmament for the first time by being registered as members of the Japanese government delegation.
The Japanese government has declined to identify the countries that voiced opposition to allowing Japanese high school students to deliver speeches at the conference this time. It is true that some neighboring countries are critical of Japan emphasizing its position as the only atomic-bombed country and that some of Japan's allies have warned against moves toward nuclear disarmament.
The question is how much of an effort Tokyo actually made to have Japanese high school peace ambassadors deliver speeches at the conference. The government managed to ensure that the Japanese high school students could make speeches during a reception to be hosted by ambassadors to the Conference on Disarmament. However, the reception is a social gathering, and speeches at the function are far less influential than those at the conference.
With the United States and North Korea condemning each other over Pyongyang's development of nuclear weapons and missiles, the nuclear issue surfaced as a major point of contention during this year's conference.
All the more for that, representatives of the countries participating in the conference should have listened to what Japanese young people hoping for nuclear disarmament and world peace had to say.
This past July, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at the United Nations. Japan neither participated in talks on the treaty, nor will it sign the pact.
The Foreign Ministry has emphasized that the decision not to allow high school peace ambassadors to deliver speeches at the Conference on Disarmament is irrelevant to Tokyo's opposition to the treaty. However, there are observations that the government feared that the high school students who welcome the treaty could express opinions contrary to Tokyo's official position on the pact. If Japan is to dismiss such suspicions, the government should make efforts to allow Japanese high school peace ambassadors to speak at the Conference on Disarmament next year and later.
Unless Japanese youths face the country's tragic history and send messages on peace to the world, Japan's experiences as the sole atomic-bombed country will be lost in history.
The government should place priority on proactively supporting the activities of these young people who are trying to convey Japan's experiences of the atomic bombing rather than bowing to opposition voiced by some countries.