Towards Vienna: The Role of Education to Further Advance the Discussion on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

On October 20th Peace Boat co-sponsored an event titled,“Towards Vienna: The Role of Education to Further Advance the Discussion on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons,” with the NGO Committee on Disarmament Peace and Security, Ban All Nukes Generation and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation to coincide with the United Nations First Committee on Disarmament and International Security. The purpose of the event was to discuss Disarmament and Non-proliferation Education and its role in the field of Nuclear Disarmament, as well as the upcoming conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons to be held in Vienna, Austria this December 8-9, 2014. The three main speakers were Ms. Caroline Woegoetter, Disarmament Counselor of the Permanent Mission of Austria to the Conference on Disarmament, Mr. John Ennis, Chief of Information and Outreach of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, and Mr. Akira Kawasaki, Executive Committee member of Peace Boat, an NGO in special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.

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Peace Boat US Event on Disarmament Educatio n and the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

Representing the government of Austria, Ms. Caroline Woegoetter discussed the upcoming conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons and explained that the main focus will be on the effects of a “nuclear explosion,” the impact on communities and people, on public health, climate change, food security, and infrastructure, as well as on the “risks” involved, including human error. The first meeting on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons was held in Oslo, Norway in 2013 followed by the second one held in Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014, Vienna will build upon the previous two conferences. Ms. Woegoetter said that, “new information is becoming available about the risks of nuclear weapons- they are more serious than previously known, and (the risks) can never be eliminated completely.” The Vienna Conference will address the need and urgency to build momentum for nuclear disarmament. Lastly, Ms. Woegoetter emphasized the importance of “all stake-holders joining together on disarmament education, as this is the only way to make progress.”

Mr. John Ennis, Chief of the Information and Outreach branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA) discussed disarmament education efforts by his office and noted that in 2002 the importance of Disarmament and Non-proliferation Education was recognized as a UN Resolution at the First Committee. He expressed the importance of the Hibakusha, the survivors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, themselves talking about the “humanitarian impact” of nuclear weapons. Mr. Ennis showed the UNODA website and their great efforts to translate the Hibakusha’s testimonies into several different languages as well as various interesting disarmament education projects including the 2011 Poetry for Peace Contest and the World Free of Nuclear Weapons Art Contest. Lastly, Mr. Ennis mentioned an exciting initiative between ODA, Peace Boat and Hibakusha Stories; every year on Election Day, November 4th, the three organizations host a training session at the UN for New York City teachers on what they can teach their students in their classrooms about nuclear disarmament.

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Akira Kawasaki speaks about Peace Boat’s Hibakusha Project

Mr. Akira Kawasaki, Executive Committee Member of Peace Boat, shared his experience as the Director of Peace Boat’s Hibakusha Project that has traveled with more than 150 Hibakusha around the world, organizing testimonies with school children and citizens in each country they visit. He explained that in partnership with local organizations, Peace Boat connects atomic bomb survivors with others who have suffered in other countries, for example Holocaust survivors or those in French Polynesia who have “experienced nuclear testing more than 100 times.” Peace Boat connects these “Global Hibakusha” to one another. Onboard the ship youth are engaged in educational programs to learn from the Hibakusha’s testimonies. Peace Boat is collaborating with the Japanese government to work with “Youth communicators for a nuclear weapons free world,” who speak on behalf of the aging Hibakusha. Mr. Kawasaki also discussed a new project of Peace Boat and Mayors for Peace called the “I was Her Age Project,” working with young children and their parents to understand what it may have been like to live through the nuclear bombing. Mr. Kawasaki noted that next year will mark the 70th year anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that a new generation will be emerging. There will be a civil society forum held to coincide with the government’s Vienna conference and Mr. Kawasaki encouraged NGO participation as a significant step ahead of the 70th anniversary.

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A lively discussion on the importance of disarmament education

The event concluded with a lively discussion between the speakers and several NGO, UN and government participants in the room. A granddaughter of a Hibakusha spoke about the importance of the second and third generation Hibakusha to help carry on the legacy of fighting for a nuclear free world. Mr. Ennis of UN ODA expressed that “the power of the people is often more powerful than what governments have to offer,” noting the success of civil society efforts to achieve a universal Ban on landmines and clusters munitions. Finally, Mr. Kawasaki added, that, “holding the Humanitarian Event in Vienna is a big step in itself,” and Mr. Ennis concluded that, “these conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons are indeed having an impact at the political level.”

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