ICAN expands its global reach, with campaign launches this month in Yemen and Iraq

December 23, 2013

The campaign to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons received a boost this month as ICAN was launched in Yemen and Iraq with the support of both government and civil society in those countries.

In Iraq, an exhibition on the catastrophic humanitarian harm of nuclear weapons was launched in the city of Erbil, capital of Kurdistan, on December 7. The event was created with the support of Aram Ahmed, a Minister of the Kurdistan Iraq government, and was attended by more than 40 Iraqi NGO and media representatives.

The day also featured a workshop on the role that civil society can play in ridding the world of nuclear weapons.  The exhibition is being shown in other Iraqi cities following the launch. According to ICAN campaigner Nasser Burdestani, the Kurdish Iraqi participants were particularly interested in the subject because of their treatment at the hands of former dictator Saddam Hussein, who used chemical weapons to suppress the Kurdish minority. Both chemical and biological weapons have been banned under international law, while nuclear weapons have not.

In recent days another exhibition launch has taken place at the House of Culture in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, with the support of the Yahya Al-Raei, Chairman of Yemeni Parliament. Secondary school students delivered poetry and showed a short play on issues related to violence and peace for an audience consisting of NGO, media and student representatives.

Both ICAN’s Iraqi and Yemeni campaigners report that they have been engaged in productive discussions about upcoming campaign activities, and hope to play a major role in progressing the goals of ICAN in the years ahead.

One of the challenges, says Mr Burdestani, from Bahrain, is “how to make the abolition of nuclear weapons a priority for local civil society which believes that the issue is marginal in our region, and that resources and efforts should be allocated to other problems”, despite the continued existence of more than 17,000 nuclear weapons across the world. In addition to this, “the biggest challenge is the ignorance of government officials to our efforts, even though we are in agreement that there is a need to abolish nuclear weapons in our region and in the world”.

Mr Burdestani sees the rise of non-governmental groups across the Middle East as key to social change: “Civil society can raise their voice and ask for immediate action. Governments are now more aware of the power of non-government organizations and they are paying more attention to their demands.”

ICAN campaigners in Yemen this month.

Participants at the ICAN event in Iraq.

Story by David Donaldson



  • aiweiwei

    “Let’s act up! Ban nuclear weapons completely and unconditionally.”

    Ai Weiwei Artist and activist

  • sheen

    “If Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were alive today, they would be part of ICAN.”

    Martin Sheen Actor and activist

  • bankimoon

    “I salute ICAN for working with such commitment and creativity.”

    Ban Ki-moon Former UN chief

  • yokoono

    “We can do it together. With your help, our voice will be made still stronger. Imagine peace.”

    Yoko Ono Artist

  • jodywilliams

    “Governments say a nuclear weapons ban is unlikely. Don’t believe it. They said the same about a mine ban treaty.”

    Jody Williams Nobel laureate

  • desmondtutu

    “With your support, we can take ICAN its full distance – all the way to zero nuclear weapons.”

    Desmond Tutu Nobel laureate

  • herbiehancock

    “Because I cannot tolerate these appalling weapons, I whole-heartedly support ICAN.”

    Herbie Hancock Jazz musician

  • dalailama

    “I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons, and I support ICAN.”

    Dalai Lama Nobel laureate