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Japan 'a pathetic country' for skipping U.N. talks: hibakusha

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, center, protests against a treaty banning nuclear weapons outside the U.N. Assembly Hall in New York on March 27, 2017. (Mainichi)

NEW YORK -- Japan's abstention from the recent United Nations conference on negotiating a treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons held at the U.N. headquarters here has greatly disappointed atomic bombing victims, or hibakusha, as the only country to ever be attacked with A-bombs appears to be unable to break free from the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

Setsuko Thurlow, who was 13 when the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, strongly criticized the government's absence from the U.N. conference between March 27 and 31, saying, "Japan is incapable of moving in accordance with the voices of the people. It is a pathetic country." The now 85-year-old A-bomb survivor delivered the harsh words in Japanese, having also given testimony in English on Day 2 of the conference.

Japan's absence from the U.N. conference stood out as it is the only country to have been struck by atomic bombs in warfare. At the outset of the conference, Japan's disarmament ambassador Nobushige Takamizawa attempted to explain the Japanese government's decision not to attend, saying that a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons is not viable and that it "will only deepen the schism and division not only between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states, but also among non-nuclear-weapon states."

To onlookers, this must have come across as a somewhat contradictory stance -- given that hibakusha such as Toshiki Fujimori and Setsuko Thurlow spoke poignantly at the conference about the need to abolish nuclear weapons

Japan was not the only party to resist the conference. For example, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, led a protest against a treaty banning nuclear weapons -- which took place outside the General Assembly as the talks began. "We have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?" Haley said. Standing alongside Haley were representatives of the U.K. and France, among other countries.

Commenting on the protest by Haley, the chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, Yasuyoshi Komizo -- who was also present at the conference -- said, "It is very rare to see the U.S. lead a protest in this way outside the main hall." It came across as a final desperate attempt by countries that are dependent on nuclear weapons to halt the movement toward forming a treaty.

Takamizawa approached Komizo outside the hall after his speech and told him, "I touched on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the beginning of my address out of respect for hibakusha," but Japan failed to send a definite message on the first day of the U.N. conference as the country tried to accommodate both hibakusha and the United States.

At the same time, Japan's support for a U.S. missile attack on Syria on April 7 is a reminder that Japan can't come out strongly against the U.S. with regard to military action. When it comes to nuclear weapons, though, A-bomb survivors such as Setsuko Thurlow desperately want Japan to adopt its own stance, based on the voices of the people, and express its support for a treaty banning nuclear weapons altogether.

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