Leaders of the United Nations, national Governments and civil society urged universal accession to the new international agreement prohibiting nuclear weapons, as dozens of Heads of State and Government became the first signatories to the landmark treaty during the annual event to promote international instruments for peace and development.
“Today we rightfully celebrate a milestone,” Secretary-General António Guterres said before he declared the legally binding instrument open for signature. Describing the Treaty as an important step towards eliminating nuclear weapons, he also noted that some 15,000 were currently present in arsenals. “We cannot allow these doomsday weapons to endanger our world and our children’s future,” he stressed.
Also addressing participants in the event were Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia), President of the General Assembly; Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross; President Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera of Costa Rica; and Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Introducing them was Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.
The Treaty — adopted on 7 July during a United Nations conference in New York — prohibits the development, testing, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession or stockpiling of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as their use or the threat to use them.
During today’s ceremony, the Secretary-General congratulated all those who had laboured to bring the Treaty to fruition, including State representatives, civil society and survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The hard road towards the elimination of nuclear arsenals would require dialogue, bridge-building and practical steps, he added.
Assembly President Lajčák (Slovakia), also acknowledging the significant accomplishment, noted the great challenges ahead, cautioning that the risks of the current situation could not be underestimated. Testing continued and the possibilities of miscalculation and proliferation to dangerous groups loomed, he warned. The work ahead must take the global security environment into account, strike a balance between idealism and pragmatism, address sensitivities on all sides, and include the maximum number of players, including nuclear-weapon States, he emphasized.
President Solis said it was important to be able to tell children of the future that everything possible had been done to ensure that no one would ever again be the victim of nuclear weapons. The Treaty, which was the result of inclusive, transparent negotiations, was the first step. Expressing regret that nuclear Powers had not joined the effort, he called for the necessary political and legal efforts towards universal accession, saying humanity was waiting for nuclear-weapon States to join “this date in history”.
Mr. Maurer called the Treaty a beacon to a more hopeful world. Recalling the horror expressed by Red Cross workers describing the condition of hundreds of thousands of Japanese atomic-bomb victims in 1945, he emphasized: “We do not want ever to receive such a message again.” The use of current, more powerful weapons would overwhelm all capacities for humanitarian response, he warned, urging all States to sign on to the Treaty. If nuclear-weapon States were unable to do so at the present time, they should take further steps to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons.
Finally, Ms. Fihn said that with the Treaty’s adoption, international law was responding not only to the voices of Nagasaki and Hiroshima survivors, but also those of members of indigenous and other marginalized communities who had been affected by nuclear testing. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons would work with all stakeholders to ensure progress.
Following those opening statements, nearly 45 high-level officials signed the Treaty, led by the Presidents of Brazil, Central African Republic, Chile, Comoros, Costa Rica, Guyana, Kiribati, Palau and South Africa.
The ceremony was the highlight of the annual treaty event in which States are invited to sign or accede to multilateral treaties by depositing their instruments of ratification or accession with the Secretary‑General.
Among treaties being promoted at the 2017 event were multilateral instruments on human rights, refugees and stateless persons, health, trade, transport, terrorism and criminal matters, law of the sea, outer space, disarmament, climate change and other environmental issues.