On 23 October 2017, the Buddhist organization Rissho Kosei-kai partnered with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) to host a panel discussion entitled “Promoting Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education” as part of the First Committee side event series for the 72nd Session General Assembly. Ms. Mary Soliman, Chief of the Regional Disarmament Branch of the Office for Disarmament Affairs, introduced the panelists and moderated the discussion.
Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, then thanked Rissho Kosei-kai for a contribution of $1 million to support UNODA over 10 years in carrying out disarmament and non-proliferation education activities, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. She stated that education has an important role to play in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation, as it constitutes an “indispensable investment” in humanity’s future. She mentioned that the decision to award the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) recognized how a network of organizations led by young people has influenced the international policy agenda for nuclear disarmament.
Reverend Takeshi Kawabata, Chair and Board of Trustees member of Rissho Kosei-kai, commended ICAN for its role in the negotiation and adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. He stated that Buddhists are determined advocates for a nuclear-weapon-free world who work alongside the United Nations and other like-minded individuals and organizations.
Dr. Kathleen Sullivan, Director of Hibakusha Stories, began her remarks by mentioning that nuclear disarmament is a cherished cause at the forefront of people’s minds. She said it is important to seize this moment to advance disarmament efforts, especially in light of ICAN’s Nobel Peace Prize award. She urged the international community to redouble its efforts to remind the world of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and stated that Hibakusha Stories aims to educate a new generation of students about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She said Hibakusha Stories does not approach disarmament education through one-sided instruction, but instead as an interactive process that helps to create the conditions for disarmament She noted that this model is useful to educate diplomats, students, law enforcement officials and others.
Dr. Matthew Bolton, a professor from Pace University, quoted a Pace student’s 2016 comment that disarmament education can enable greater participation in related advocacy by youth, women and those affected by violence. Dr. Bolton noted that few higher education institutions offer robust programs on disarmament, as the topic receives little attention from national governments. He called for institutions to address inequities in access to disarmament education, as well as for individuals to learn about and engage with the political realities of disarmament efforts. Model UN is one example of a program that teaches students about disarmament, he said, adding he is “excited” about new educational opportunities to come.
Ms. Emilie McGlone, United States director for Peace Boat, said her organization works to promote peace; human rights; equal and sustainable development; and respect for the environment. She stated that Peace Boat works with local civil society partners around the world to educate individuals about global concerns related to human rights, peace and nuclear issues. The organization also encourages problem-solving activities to teach youth about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 16 on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies. Peace Boat uses its travelling cruise ship as a venue to raise awareness about global issues and building community. Activities on the boat promote education, disarmament and sustainability.
Mr. Christian Ciobanu, Senior Associate of the Global Security Institute, finished the discussion by emphasizing the need for more projects aimed at educating individuals on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. He cited examples such as a youth engagement program in Vienna that allows young people to meet with delegations and civil society to discuss the necessity of banning nuclear weapons. He stated that his organization encourages young people to attend meetings of the General Assembly First Committee and to utilize social media, like Facebook and Twitter, to develop their knowledge of related nuclear issues. He added that they work to develop disarmament education initiatives for religious institutions and parliamentarians to holistically engage with young people.
The event concluded with a signing ceremony in which Reverend Takeshi Kawabata and Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu finalized the agreement for Rissho Kosei-kai to expand its support for the disarmament and non-proliferation education activities of UNODA.
Text by Gillian Linden
Photos by Damon Shavers