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High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament (26 September 2013)

Role of Civil Society

The role of civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is explicitly recognized in Article 71 of the UN Charter. There were representatives of 1,200 voluntary organizations present at the founding conference in San Francisco in 1945. They were instrumental in drafting the first seven words of the Charter, “We the peoples of the United Nations…”. Civil society plays a vital role in raising awareness and capturing the public conscience to advance disarmament and non-proliferation. Its involvement has been instrumental in efforts to end atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, the ban on anti-personnel landmines and the recent cluster munitions convention. NGOs have been key stakeholders in almost all inter-governmental disarmament processes, including the review conferences of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the work of the United Nations First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, and recent efforts to negotiate an arms trade treaty that would regulate the global trade in conventional weapons.

From the beginning of the nuclear age, civil society has played a prominent role in the effort to eliminate nuclear weapons. Physicists, seismologists, and other scientists; physicians and lawyers; women’s organizations; religious leaders; research institutes and disarmament NGOs; mayors and parliamentarians; victims exposed to radioactive contaminants resulting from atmospheric testing and the hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and the wider public have all been involved.