On 8 October 2021, Maureen Penjueli of the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) delivered the following statement to the 76th UNGA First Committee on behalf of ICAN:
Dear distinguished delegates,
After decades of activism and diplomacy, we have achieved a historic and irreversible feat: the first-ever globally-applicable treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons is now international law.
The monumental entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons is a much needed light amidst a bleak landscape. It is a testament of global solidarity and demonstrates the ability to world to act together to address complex problems.
But our work is not done. Nuclear-armed states spent $72.6 billion on their arsenals in 2020, an increase of $1.4 billion from 2019, during a global pandemic and worsening environmental and climate crises.
The risk of nuclear war continues to grow as all nuclear-armed states develop more and new types of nuclear weapons systems. In particular, recent reports of possible substantial nuclear warhead increases by China and the United Kingdom are cause for alarm, as are the increasingly hostile relations between the US and China and the US and Russia. The U.S., UK and Australian decision for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines raises the risk of nuclear proliferation, as well as nuclear accidents and radiological contamination.
Cyber attacks, and application of artificial intelligence to nuclear systems, will increase uncertainty and reduce the time political leaders have to make decisions. This increases the risk that they will stumble into unintended nuclear war during an international crisis. Humanity has had many close calls with nuclear accidents and near -misses already. We cannot count on luck and good decisions by cautious individuals to help us make it through these situations in the future.
In the Pacific region, in the area known for unwanted nuclear testing, we know why the world cannot afford to increase the potential for nuclear accidents. Our people are living testimonies of what the use and testing of these weapons of mass destruction does. We know the radiation sickness, cancers, trauma, death and destruction that they bring for generations to come.
With lived experience of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, nuclear survivors have led the movement for a nuclear-weapon free world. It was the global hibakusha whose testimonies on nuclear weapons succeeded in getting a majority of states to fill the legal gap by banning nuclear weapons and requiring, for the first time in an international treaty, that states provide assistance to survivors of nuclear weapon use and testing and begin to remediate contaminated environments.
As you, distinguished delegates, gather here today for the 76th UN General Assembly First Committee, we encourage you to welcome the entry into force of this landmark treaty and condemn actions that increase nuclear weapons risk. And we urge you to act to move us closer to a world free of nuclear weapons. We call on those who have not yet done so to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and hope many will also attend the first Meeting of States Parties in March 2022, to engage in this multilateral initiative to eliminate nuclear weapons.
header photo: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine (2017)