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495 local assemblies demand Japan gov't ratify nuclear ban treaty in written statement

This file photo shows the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park cenotaph commemorating A-bomb victims, with the Atomic Bomb Dome seen in the background. (Mainichi/Yasunori Sato)

HIROSHIMA -- Over a quarter of local assemblies across Japan have adopted a written statement demanding that the central government sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), a report by the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikyo) revealed.

    One more country or region needs to ratify the treaty for the number to reach 50, the threshold for the treaty to go into effect. While the Japanese government has declared that it will not join the pact as it depends on the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, among other reasons, there has been a growing movement among local assemblies to urge the national government to change policy.

    The nuclear arms prohibition treaty was adopted in July 2017 by 122 countries and regions -- over 60% of the United Nation's membership. The treaty bans the development, test, manufacture, possession or use of atomic weapons, as well as the threat of their use -- the basis of nuclear deterrent. Japan did not participate in negotiations nor signed the pact, along with the five nuclear powers of the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China. Tokyo stayed out of the pact for fear of appearing to denounce nuclear deterrence and thereby deepening conflict between nuclear have and have-not nations.

    In response, Gensuikyo decided in a global conference held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 2017 that it will approach local assemblies in Japan to adopt written statements asking the national government to sign and ratify the nuclear ban treaty. Atomic bomb survivors have been engaged in these efforts across Japan.

    According to Gensuikyo, the prefectural assemblies of Iwate, Nagano, Mie, Tottori, and Okinawa, as well as 490 municipal assemblies -- 28% of all local assemblies nationwide -- had adopted the written statement as of Oct. 23, 2020. The tally includes assemblies that have adopted the objective of the written statement, as they agree with it but are uncertain of its feasibility. A total of 34 assemblies in Iwate, including the prefectural assembly, adopted the statement. The statement was initially turned down twice in the municipal assembly of Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, but finally gathered a majority in March 2020 after Gensuikyo explained persistently about damage resulting from nuclear weapons.

    Meanwhile, no local assemblies in the prefectures of Toyama, Fukui, Yamaguchi and Saga have adopted the statement.

    A tendency among conservative assembly members to dislike passing written statements that counter central government policy has apparently led to the regional differences. Even in the atomic bomb-stricken areas of Hiroshima and Nagasaki prefectures, the statement's adoption rate is 67% and 32%, respectively.

    Sixteen municipal assemblies in Hiroshima Prefecture, including the Hiroshima city assembly, have adopted the statement, with authorities saying, "Our country, the only nation that has experienced atomic bombing, has a special role and responsibility to strive to abolish nuclear weapons." However, Hiroshima Prefectural Assembly lawmakers did not even submit a proposal to adopt the statement.

    Fumikazu Furuta, secretariat head at Gensuikyo's Hiroshima branch, explained that a prefectural assembly member belonging to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party rejected his request for cooperation by saying, "We must consider the views of party headquarters."

    There are also local assemblies that reject adopting the statement as it is not legally binding, and by claiming that national defense and security are exclusively under central government jurisdiction. Soji Kanno, deputy secretariat head at Gensuikyo's Iwate branch, who approached Iwate Prefecture assemblies with the statement, commented, "Abolishing nuclear weapons is not a political request, but the wish of the Japanese public. I'd like for all local assemblies to raise their voices towards the Japanese government."

    (Japanese original by Isamu Gari and Misa Koyama, Hiroshima Bureau)

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