‘There can be no safe hands for nuclear weapons,’ declares South African president

September 29, 2015

During yesterday’s opening debate of the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, heads of state and government from across the world delivered statements on a range of global issues, including the urgent need to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. The president of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark, noted the “vast” nuclear arsenals that still exist today.

“Disarmament negotiations in Geneva have been stalled for years,” he said, referring to the long-stagnant Conference on Disarmament. A visit to the Japanese city of Hiroshima last month reminded him of the horrors of nuclear war, he said. “We must remember that all too many nuclear warheads are on high alert, and we have not even eliminated risks of nuclear conflicts by mistake.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered wide-ranging remarks, but did not touch on the topic of nuclear disarmament – an issue that has been on the UN agenda since the organization’s inception in 1945. This omission reflects, perhaps, the apparently grim prospects for reinvigorating the UN disarmament machinery, which has failed in recent years to make meaningful progress towards the abolition of nuclear weapons.

South African president Jacob Zuma observed that 2015 marks not only 70 years since the formation of the UN, but also 70 years since the first atomic bombs were detonated on Japan. “There can be no safe hands for nuclear weapons,” he declared. “The humanitarian consequences of a possible detonation of a nuclear weapon, whether intentionally or accidentally, will be catastrophic for humanity.”

Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto described the General Assembly as “the standard-bearer for peace, nuclear disarmament and the best causes of humanity”. Following the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, Mexico “put its weight behind the treaty for the prohibition of nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean”, he said. Today it is at the forefront of efforts to achieve a global ban on nuclear weapons.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, urged nations to adopt “a world without nuclear weapons” as “the main goal of humanity in the 21st century”. His country was the first to close a nuclear test site, he informed delegates. Following the disbandment of the Soviet Union, it renounced the world’s fourth-largest nuclear arsenal, and then joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Several nations referred positively to the recent deal struck with Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said that, in parallel to implementing the deal, “we also expect the nuclear-weapon states to take necessary steps to fulfil their commitment of full nuclear disarmament based on Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty”.

Qatar’s amir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, expressed alarm at the “shortcomings and double standards” that mire the international handling of nuclear disarmament, while Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, warned of the threat resulting from the “excessive accumulation of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons”.

Four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council delivered statements on the opening day – the United States, Russia, France and China – but none affirmed the need to eliminate nuclear weapons. All have failed to fulfil Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which obliges them to pursue negotiations in good faith for nuclear disarmament.

Full list of speeches here →

  • 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