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ICAN official still hopes for Japan gov't to take lead in nuclear abolishment

Akira Kawasaki (Mainichi)

At the ceremony awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign for the Abolishment of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), A-bomb survivors, or "hibakusha," emphasized the importance of peace to the world. While the Japanese government, which falls under the protection of the United States' so-called "nuclear umbrella," commented that it shares ICAN's goals, Japan has not signed the U.N. nuclear weapons ban treaty that won the NGO its prize.

As the only country on earth to experience the horrors of an atomic bomb in war, what should the Japanese government's nuclear weapons policy be? The Mainichi Shimbun asked ICAN international steering committee member Akira Kawasaki for his comments:

I had the pleasure of attending the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony on Dec. 10 as a member of ICAN. Along with Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations Co-chairperson Terumi Tanaka and Assistant Secretary General Toshiki Fujimori, some 30 elderly hibakusha made their way to Oslo for the ceremony using personal funds. Being able to transport items from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and hold a concert on Dec. 11 with the "hibaku (A-bombed) piano" was also incredibly memorable. The reason we have been able to come this far is thanks to the cooperation of a great deal of people.

I believe that this award is the Norwegian Nobel Committee's way of cheering on the citizens of this planet who worked to get the U.N. to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons this July to continue forward boldly. At the end of the day, ICAN is a movement, not a particular person or group. The real winners of the prize are people around the world who have tirelessly worked for many years to ban nuclear weapons.

Above all else, the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who have been a central part of the Japanese movement to abolish nuclear weapons have had an immense impact on the global anti-nuclear weapons movement. A testament to this was Canada-based Setsuko Thurlow, who experienced the bombing in her hometown of Hiroshima, standing alongside ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn to accept the Nobel Peace Prize medal and giving a powerful speech at the award ceremony. With the simple but powerful words, "These weapons are not a necessary evil; they are the ultimate evil. ... Let this be the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons," I hope that Thurlow's passionate message captured the hearts of many.

I believe that through the ceremony, the world was once again reminded of just how important the position of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is within the anti-nuclear weapons movement. Be that as it may, the ICAN movement is not one that only looks to the past, but is also fundamentally focused on the future. Even today, the threat of nuclear weapons continues around the world in places like the Middle East, the Korean Peninsula and between India and Pakistan. This award should not be considered a "distinguished service award," but rather a "kick-off" for a new era that is only just beginning.

It's a shame that the Japanese government will not change their attitude toward the nuclear weapons ban treaty. Even though many of Japan's citizens oppose nuclear weapons, the government, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the center, has turned its back on the majority of the citizens of the world in the name of "nuclear deterrence." The government has said that it will serve as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear countries, but what bridges has it built so far? Japan should faithfully fulfill its responsibility as the only nation on earth to have experienced the horrors of nuclear weapons in war.

With tensions surrounding North Korea, some young people may have the vague sense that Japan being under the nuclear umbrella of the United States just can't be helped. But I urge them to go visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and meet the hibakusha. There are still 160,000 survivors who can tell of their experiences of the bombs.

At the end of November in Hiroshima, a government-sponsored meeting of the Group of Eminent Persons for Substantive Advancement of Nuclear Disarmament was held. During a discussion among experts and NGOs, we conveyed to the Japanese government our wish that it not stand in the way of the nuclear weapons ban treaty. The meeting was sponsored by former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Hiroshima-native Fumio Kishida.

At the very least, I would like to see the government show that it is headed in the direction of nuclear arms reduction. Japan needs to use its diplomatic power as the only country to have experienced nuclear bombings to make a difference before it's too late. I haven't given up hope just yet.

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