DPI/NGO Conference Calls on Governments, International Organizations to Create Effective Arms Trade Treaty, Nuclear-Weapon-Free World

14 September 2009

DPI/NGO Conference Calls on Governments, International Organizations to Create Effective Arms Trade Treaty, Nuclear-Weapon-Free World

14 September 2009
Meetings Coverage
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DPI/NGO Conference Calls on Governments, International Organizations

to Create Effective Arms Trade Treaty, Nuclear-Weapon-Free World

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

MEXICO CITY, 11 September ‑‑ Some 1,300 non-governmental organization representatives from more than 50 countries concluded the sixty-second annual DPI/NGO Conference in Mexico City Friday evening with a fervent call to Governments and international organizations worldwide to strengthen their commitments to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons and to promptly start negotiating a convention prohibiting and eliminating those weapons everywhere within an agreed time-bound framework.

In their “Disarming for Peace and Development” Declaration, Conference participants, guided by the Secretary-General’s five-point proposal for nuclear disarmament and alarmed that 1,000 people were killed every day by small arms and 3,000 more were seriously injured, called for strict Government regulation over the sale, trade, possession and use of small arms, as well as strong support for an effective arms trade treaty for all types of conventional weapons.

Non-governmental organizations called on Governments and international organizations to obtain the necessary signatures and ratifications to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force without further delay or conditions.  They also urged them to propose disarmament strategies and programmes as provided by the United Nations Charter, during the upcoming Security Council summit on disarmament, and called for reform of the Council to make it more representative and accountable, thus better able to respond to violations of disarmament and non-proliferation obligations.

“The purpose of this declaration is simple,” they stated.  “Its aim is to save lives and to reduce injuries, and in the case of nuclear weapons, to prevent the destruction of civilization.  The benefits of peace and security far outweigh whatever short-term benefits the trade in arms may promise.”

Several speakers addressing the Conference’s closing ceremony agreed with that assessment and the need for stronger global regulation to rid the world of armaments in favour of peace and development.

Roberto Zamora, a Costa Rican peace activist, lawyer and member of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, said social and economic crisis and underdevelopment in many parts of the world had made it difficult to achieve peace, while too much money was being spent on the military in rich nations to hold onto power.  Instead of investing in arms, States should invest resources in health, education, distribution of wealth, food and water.

His own country was a testament to the fact that disarmament did contribute to peace and development, he said.  In 1948, the Costa Rican Government had abolished the national army and invested in human development, transforming itself into a developing country with high indicators of human development.  He went on to point out that the existence of small armies in some of Costa Rica’s neighbours was pointless.

“Who are they going to fight if their offensive capacity is ridiculously small?” he asked, adding that those small armies only served for coup d’états, such as the recent one in Honduras.  Weapons in the hands of civilians was another large problem.  Civilians legally held more than 380 million weapons, and purchased 80 per cent of the weapons produced annually, turning today’s children into tomorrow’s murderers.  All States were obliged to ensure security for their inhabitants.   However, the disarmament process involved destroying the myth that people could achieve security by arming themselves.  Weapons did not offer real protection.  They only led to higher levels of crime.

“It is unacceptable that at the dawn of the twenty-first century, in countries like Uganda, it is possible to buy an AK-47 rifle for the same price of a chicken,” he said, calling on all States to join in creating an arms trade treaty and to set domestic quotas for weapons production that made weapons more expensive and less accessible to civilians.

“The problem is not the quantity of weapons, nor what is spent on them or how they are distributed.  The problem is the weapons themselves,” he said.  “The problem is not what the law says; it’s what is done with the law.”

The signing of the United Nations Charter in 1945 was aimed at launching a new era in international relations and international law characterized by peaceful resolutions to conflict, peace and international stability, he said.  But, those hopes had been dashed by the unjust, arbitrary veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council and the unwillingness of States to comply with United Nations resolutions, international treaties and the jurisdiction of international courts.  Now was the time to apply Articles 5 and 6 of Charter and start sanctioning States that did not respect their obligations to the Charter.  Without mechanisms to ensure compliance with domestic and international law, disarmament efforts would be in vain.

As long as the veto power existed for the world’s greatest weapons producers, there would be no rule of law, he said, and as long as Governments did not respect international law, there would be no democracy.  “How could the countries that create weapons to destabilize international peace and security be permanent members of the Security Council?” he asked.  “With what authority can they decide issues of international peace and security if they base their international policies on the constant threat of using force from military bases worldwide?”

Mr. Zamora also stressed the importance of establishing peaceful national Constitutions to prevent conflicts and putting in place judicial mechanisms to guarantee compliance with those Constitutions.  In Costa Rica, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court invoked the nation’s peaceful Constitution and the United Nations Charter to rule that the Costa Rican Government’s support for the United States-led war in Iraq was unconstitutional and that it violated the country’s neutrality statement.

It was necessary to establish the rule of law at the international level and mandate that States set up the necessary mechanisms to comply with their international obligations governing acquired goods, particularly weapons.  Countless treaties and accords for disarmament were in place, he said.  The error made, however, was that each pointed to a specific type of weapon, be it biological, chemical or nuclear.  The point was that all weapons should be eliminated, not today, but yesterday.

Also pointing to the dangers of weapons, particularly nuclear weapons, was Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of the City of Hiroshima, Japan, and President of Mayors for Peace, a worldwide network of municipal leaders.  Mr. Akiba said that United States President Barack Obama had made it clear that he would lead the world towards a nuclear-weapon-free era by 2020.  Mayors for Peace was determined to support President Obama, who had stated that those who perpetrated a nuclear threat were no less than terrorists.

“What we are trying to accomplish, is nothing less than a revolution,” he said, adding that the mayors were open to suggestions on devising a symbol for that revolution.  He suggested that it be called a “cosmos” revolution -- named after a popular flower in Japan.  Should a nuclear exchange occur, it would cause a nuclear winter, and unimaginable consequences for the planet and mankind.  Mr. Akiba said “cosmos” was also the acronym of a committee he used to belong to that comprised of young volunteers working to spread awareness about the suffering of the people in Hiroshima.  The committee represented the survival of the people Hiroshima and sent a message that the nuclear attack on that city should never happen again. 

Mr. Akiba said that, on Thursday, he had met with Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who had joined the Mayors for Peace, bringing the total number of municipal leaders in the initiative to 200.  He urged more mayors to join the cause.  He then shed light on the “four points” to effect positive change, saying that powerful change came from within and should be used in an historical context.  Everyone should work for the benefit of the next generation.  The world needed leaders who did not recycle the old frameworks and who could draw out the better nature in everyone.  Moreover, all leaders should fall into that category by rallying behind disarmament.  The transformation of Hiroshima was a good example of how those points had effected positive change.  The city, completely destroyed in 1945 by the A-bomb, had since become a thriving, beautiful place, thanks to its citizens, leaders and its community.  That power of the people had made reconstruction and prosperity possible.  And it clearly showed that the power for change really came from within.

Mr. Akiba urged non-governmental organizations to write to the leaders of world’s powerful nations, particularly nuclear-weapon-holding and -producing States, to visit Hiroshima so they could see first-hand the destruction caused by nuclear weapons.  He called on participants to approach their local mayors and to join the “We Must Disarm” campaign and other efforts to advance the goals of the 2010-2020 International Decade for Disarmament.

“With all of us working together, I firmly believe we can abolish nuclear weapons by 2020,” Mr. Akiba said.  That was a once-in-a-century event, which called for a gigantic celebration.  In recognition of that he proposed holding the 2020 Olympic Games in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to celebrate a nuclear-free world.

Sergio Duarte, United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said Governments tended to treat nuclear disarmament as merely an “ultimate goal” or some distant vision -- rather than as an obligation requiring concrete action.  But times were changing.  The Presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States had made individual and joint statements affirming their commitment to disarmament, in line with their obligations under article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  On 24 September, the Security Council would meet for its first-ever summit to address nuclear disarmament.  The same day, the United Nations would host a meeting of signatories to the CTBT to consider ways to promote its early entry into force.

Preparatory procedural work for the 2010 NPT Review Conference had been completed on a positive note, he said.  The Conference on Disarmament had broken a 12-year stalemate and seemed posed to begin work early next year on a fissile material treaty.  Authoritative voices everywhere had talked of the need for serious efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons, prevent proliferation and ensure the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  Almost one year ago, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had presented his five-point plan for nuclear disarmament.  Civil society had seized the momentum of those encouraging developments, sending a strong signal that it must be included as an active participant in the process of achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world.  Women and youth groups had taken a special interest in the issue, lightening the burden that disarmament non-governmental organizations had to bear almost single-handedly for many decades.

“Today is not simply the date the Conference ends, but a potential turning point leading to a new era in the growth of our expanding global family of disarmament,” Mr. Duarte said.  Participants had a better understanding of how progress in disarmament would contribute to peacebuilding and development.  The event’s best outcome was perhaps the new shared appreciation that the case for disarmament rested less upon appeals to fear than on its positive contribution to building a better world.  That was why the Secretary-General had called nuclear disarmament a “global public good of the highest order”.

Kiyo Akasaka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, asked participants to observe a moment of silence in memory of those who had died on 11 September 2001 -- a day which reminded everyone of the urgent need for disarmament and to rethink the meaning of security -- in particular global human security.  Civil society organizations needed to develop innate strengths and abilities to act on their own behalf as well as that of others, and to speak out on the issues of disarmament, peace and development, at a time when they were receiving renewed attention.

“What is clear from all the round table discussions, breakout sessions and workshops -- some of which has aroused deep passion -- is that the global NGO community is ready for action […] to stop the bomb,” Mr. Akasaka said, referring to the Secretary-General’s call for a coherent strategy for genuine disarmament and the abolition of nuclear arms, including through ratification of the CTBT.

“Nowhere is action more needed that on the issue of the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons,” Mr. Akasaka said, pointing to the moving testimony during the Conference from those whose lives had been shattered by gang violence and the effects of the use of firearms. 

During the Conference, Jody Williams, the Nobel Prize laureate and founder of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, had called on non-governmental organizations to write letters to the Heads of State of the United States and the United Kingdom for critical action on the United States Nuclear Posture Review now under way and to question the replacement of the Trident nuclear subs, Mr. Akasaka said.  She has also stressed that non-governmental organization voices must be heard loud and clear on both nuclear and conventional weapons.  The Secretary-General too had seen civil society as the “mightiest force in the world” with the power to move people.

“I hope the spirit we have engendered in the city that gave us the model treaty on nuclear-weapon-free zones will inspire us to recognize that to address the crises of food, fuel, flu and finances, we must seize the moment and disarm now!” Mr. Akasaka said.

Charles Hitchcock, Chairperson of the sixty-second DPI/NGO Conference, called on all participants to draw on what they had learned during the Conference to lobby their respective Governments to make weapons of mass destruction a thing of the past, before children currently in elementary school graduated from college.  The growing global defence budget must also be significantly reduced in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and in that regard the Geneva Declaration process called for civil society’s active engagement.

That process was now in the hands of an international working group on armed violence and development, Mr. Hitchcock said, calling on non-governmental organization representatives to be informed about its efforts and to carry its message to the public and Government representatives.  A 10 per cent reduction in military spending would free up enough money to bring drinking water, basic food, health care and universal primary education to everyone.  That was a realistic goal, and could be more readily achievable if there were significant numbers of women at all levels of peacemaking negotiations.

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