Press Conference on Mexico City DPI/NGO Conference

4 September 2009

Press Conference on Mexico City DPI/NGO Conference

4 September 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Mexico City DPI/NGO Conference

The stage is set for upwards of 1,700 non-governmental organization representatives and experts from some 70 countries around the world to take a fresh look at how they can contribute to arms reduction while advancing the cause of peace in the world, reporters were told today at a Headquarters press conference.

Briefing correspondents in New York on the upcoming DPI/NGO Conference to be held in Mexico City, 9–11 September, Claude Heller, Permanent Representative of Mexico; Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information; Sergio Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; and Charles Hitchcock, Chair of the sixty-second Annual DPI/NGO Conference, all stressed that the conference was timely, as it came at time of renewed initiatives in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation and it was hoped the gathering would help mobilize the international community and help push forward the debate on such issues.

Mr. Akasaka, in comments before he introduced the other speakers, said the conference’s title is “For Peace and Development: Disarm Now” and is organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information and the NGO/DPI Executive Committee.

He took note of Mexico’s long tradition of advancing nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and said that the conference there would take place at a time when the cost and dangers of nuclear weapons were mounting.  It also came in advance of major international discussions and conferences at the United Nations on those issues.  “As you know, President [Barack] Obama of the United States will preside over a summit-level meeting of the Security Council on 24 September on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation,” he added.

He said the conference will be opened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 9 September with a major address on disarmament, and he will in addition take part in a number of events with students, young people and civil society on the linkage between disarmament, peace and development.  He added that global military spending last year amounted to $1.5 trillion -- representing more than $200 for each person alive today.  “This is untenable at a time when 1 billion people struggle to live on $1 or less a day,” he said.

He added that the conference was expected to feature keynote addresses from major figures in the disarmament world, among them Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba of Hiroshima City, Japan, and the distinguished Mexican diplomat and disarmament negotiator Miguel Marin-Bosch.

Mr. Heller told correspondents that his country had offered to host the conference in line with its diplomatic tradition of taking the lead on disarmament and non-proliferation issues, with more than 40 years of active pursuit of non-proliferation since the country had signed the Treaty of Tlatelolco in 1967, which established the first nuclear-free zone in the world.

He said that Treaty had been influential in creating four more nuclear weapon-free areas.   Mexico had also led many important initiatives on conventional weapons and small arms and light weapons at the regional level through the Organization of American States.  Mexico, along with the United States, had been the first country to launch the idea of the Inter-American Convention in 1987 and had also supported joint efforts with the United Nations Department of Public Information concerning the role that civil society, non-governmental organizations and experts should play on disarmament and non-proliferation issues, because those were problematic issues that not only affected States, but also the survival of mankind and all societies.

He pointed out that Mexico’s position remained unchanged -- the possibility of nuclear weapons proliferation would continue as long as nuclear weapons continued to exist, adding: “That which does not exist cannot proliferate.”  At the same time, he believed it was equally important to see the upcoming conference in the international context.  There was new momentum on disarmament, with several new initiatives, including the recent speech in Prague by President Obama announcing the new United States policy in the field of disarmament.  For that and other reasons, such as the upcoming Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference in 2010, the Mexico City conference was an important event in terms of political momentum.

He hoped, therefore, that the conference would provide opportunity to have a serious exchange between non-governmental organizations and experts on disarmament issues and, thus, give much needed support to disarmament issues, including the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

Also speaking at the press conference, Mr. Duarte said his office considered the conference important and timely, because there was now a new wave of interest in the world in disarmament goals.  He pointed out that those disarmament goals were very wide and called not only for the total elimination of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, but also the limitation of conventional armaments, prevention of the illicit trade in small arms, elimination of landmines and indiscriminate inhumane weapons like cluster munitions, and many other related goals.

Continuing, he said the goals had grown out of the growing public awareness of the burdens and risks of large investments in weapons, especially the most deadly ones.  All countries had a right to self-defence, but military spending had been growing very rapidly and was now well over $1 trillion annually.  Thousands of nuclear weapons that were capable of destroying entire cities still remained in arsenals in the world, many of which were on high alert.  Further, there was also the risk that additional countries and terrorists could one day acquire weapons of mass destruction.

“So we believe, in my Office, that non-governmental organizations and civil society in general have a vital role to play in alleviating these dangers,” he said, adding that it was his hope that the conference would provide the participants with a very visible forum, not just to receive briefings, but to convey their own ideas about how those challenges could be met.  It might also provide a useful arena to build and strengthen networks of mutual support that were so essential for the success of disarmament initiatives.  Further, through reporting by the news media, the conference would help to educate the public about the opportunities and obstacles that lay ahead in that field.

Mr. Hitchcock, Chair of the upcoming Conference, said the meeting was turning out to be a unique experience.  For 60 years the annual conference had been held at United Nations Headquarters.  Then, last year, it had been held in Paris, France, where it was convened at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) under the theme of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Human Rights Declaration.

This year, as a result of an invitation by the Mexican Government, the meeting was being held to highlight effective ways in which civil society could contribute to the advancement of disarmament and peace, and as a result, promote sustainable development, he said.  The uniqueness of the conference lay in its planning process.  With planning committees of over 20 individuals each in both Mexico City and New York, he had never before seen such international cooperation in the planning process.

In response to a correspondent’s question, Mr. Hitchcock said that, while the global economic and financial crisis had impacted the anticipated attendance at the conference, it had not resulted in any waning of interest in the subject.  On the contrary, while not many participants from the Latin American region had attended previous conferences, the Mexico City conference had drawn record numbers from the region.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.