Congress news


Yesterday I did a press conference on behalf of the Congress organisers on the subject of nuclear disarmament. Christian Schönenberger from the Swiss Foreign Office joined us, as did Rebecca Johnson, Vice-Chair of ICAN.

Christian Schönenberger referred not only to the excellent speech by Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss Foreign Minister in the plenary that morning, but also to the study that caused such a stir at the NPT Review Conference on “Delegitimising Nuclear Weapons“. The fact that nuclear weapons contravene international humanitarian law is a recurring theme, both in New York and here in Basel, and is fast becoming the central argument for the abolition of nuclear weapons. That might seem like a no-brainer for us but on the other hand but needs to be said repeatedly, especially since our friends at “Global Zero” are pushing the argument of fear against terrorism as being the main issue.

Since IPPNW and ICAN have the humanitarian aspect at the centre of their arguments for the abolition of nuclear weapons, I attempted to explain to the journalists present why that was so. And other than what would happen to people if nuclear weapons were used, which has been well documented by IPPNW, both in the case of accidental nuclear war and a so-called limited exchange (which would of course still be global because of the impact through the resulting smoke and drop in global temperature causing failure of harvests and mass starvation). But the point I wanted to make is that it is a humanitarian issue right now, because of the diversion of resources for nuclear programmes and our continuing failure to understand what kind of security humans need in the 21st century.

Take Pakistan as an example. Back then, when the decision was taken to build the nuclear bomb, the then Premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto said (and I don’t have the exact quote to hand) that even if Pakistan had to eat grass, they would make the bomb. Well, they are doing that now, because there is not enough money to help the people of Pakistan feed themselves in the face of these terrible floods. The diversion of resources into the military has left Pakistan unable to cope with this catastrophe.

This shows that investment in our security is completely inadequate. Houses are not built to withstand natural disasters, emergency relief is pitiful, even in daily life there is no protection from the big killers like malaria, dirty water, HIV, etc. Security is instead based on nuclear weapons, a weapon that cannot be used because of its own humanitarian and environmental impact.

It is time, in the 21st century, to understand that climate change and disease are the threats to our security and nuclear weapons do not protect us from them, so they are useless.

Time to retire the bomb.

Xanthe Hall, Basel, Aug 28 2010

Dimity Hawkins, Xanthe Hall and Tilman Ruff (from left to right)

Dimity Hawkins, Xanthe Hall and Tilman Ruff (from left to right)

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Distinguished Participants,

Dmitri Medvedev

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev

I’m pleased to congratulate you on the Thirtieth Anniversary of the organization International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

Over the years this organization has united thousands of medical workers from various countries and continents. It has made a great contribution to the enhancement of peace and stability on this planet.

Saving humanity from a nuclear threat is one of the key tasks of the modern time. The realization of this goal is of crucial importance for global security, safe and happy life for millions of people.

It is essential, that with your high authority, experience and public influence you support the work of states towards disarmament and nonproliferation and call for moving forward the key initiatives in this area. It is precisely this approach that is the gauge of success in the international efforts to counter the new challenges and threats and to eliminate the causes that compel the states to strive to acquire nuclear weapons.

I wish you a fruitful discussion and all the very best.

D. Medvedev
President of Russia

August 27, 2010

Mayor Akiba

Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba

It is my great honor to send a message to the 19th IPPNW World Congress in Basel, Switzerland. I very much wish I could be with you at what I know will be a crucial event.

Sixty-five years ago, the hibakusha, A-bomb survivors, experienced the inhumanity of the atomic bombings and the “end of the world.” Since then, they have asserted that, “No one else should ever suffer as we did.”

The NPT Review Conference in New York this past May gave evidence of the guiding influence of that message. The Final Document expresses the unanimous intent of the parties to seek the abolition of nuclear weapons; underscores the catastrophic impact of any nuclear weapon use; notes the valuable contribution of civil society; notes that a majority favors the establishment of timelines for the nuclear weapons abolition process; and highlights the need for a nuclear weapons convention or new legal framework.

The urgency of nuclear weapons abolition is permeating our global conscience; the voice of the vast majority is becoming the preeminent force for change in the international community. We must now do everything in our power to complete the task. The recent Hiroshima Conference on the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons by 2020 contributed to this task. Its Appeal identified two critical areas of work: first, achieving a greater level of unity and coordination among not just the anti-nuclear-weapon forces but also with other sectors of civil society, including groups concerned with climate change, humanitarian law, and the global economic crisis; second, eliciting true governmental leadership for the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free world.

The Appeal recognizes the valuable contributions of IPPNW and ICAN on the first point, and regarding the second point, proposes the convening of “a special disarmament conference in 2011 to facilitate the start of negotiation on a nuclear weapons convention.” We believe this is a challenge governments are ready to rise to, but they need a bit of encouragement from civil society. I do hope you will all make the “special conference” one of your key objectives in 2011.

To achieve our overall goal within the 2020 timeframe, we will have to generate tremendous global momentum. People everywhere will have to press their nations hard to develop the political will required to abolish nuclear weapons. In this context, your Congress is a wonderful opportunity to discuss our future without nuclear weapons, and I hereby express my deepest respect for your commitment and endeavors.

Eliminating nuclear weapons from the world will be one of humanity’s greatest achievements. To celebrate this achievement in 2020, the City of Hiroshima is exploring the feasibility of bidding for the 2020 Olympics, which we would make a “Festival of Peace.”

I sincerely hope that, with your support, we can make our two dreams — a nuclear-weapon-free world and the Hiroshima Olympics — come true in the current decade. I have no doubt that your Congress will lead to an influential outcome that will guide the international community to a powerful unified campaign.

Tadatoshi Akiba

Mayor

The City of Hiroshima

August 27, 2010

Mayor Akiba

Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba

It is my great honor to send a message to the 19th IPPNW World Congress in Basel, Switzerland. I very much wish I could be with you at what I know will be a crucial event. Sixty-five years ago, the hibakusha, A-bomb survivors, experienced the inhumanity of the atomic bombings and the “end of the world.” Since then, they have asserted that, “No one else should ever suffer as we did.” The NPT Review Conference in New York this past May gave evidence of the guiding influence of that message. The Final Document expresses the unanimous intent of the parties to seek the abolition of nuclear weapons; underscores the catastrophic impact of any nuclear weapon use; notes the valuable contribution of civil society; notes that a majority favors the establishment of timelines for the nuclear weapons abolition process; and highlights the need for a nuclear weapons convention or new legal framework. The urgency of nuclear weapons abolition is permeating our global conscience; the voice of the vast majority is becoming the preeminent force for change in the international community. We must now do everything in our power to complete the task. The recent Hiroshima Conference on the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons by 2020 contributed to this task. Its Appeal identified two critical areas of work: first, achieving a greater level of unity and coordination among not just the anti-nuclear-weapon forces but also with other sectors of civil society, including groups concerned with climate change, humanitarian law, and the global economic crisis; second, eliciting true governmental leadership for the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free world. The Appeal recognizes the valuable contributions of IPPNW and ICAN on the first point, and regarding the second point, proposes the convening of “a special disarmament conference in 2011 to facilitate the start of negotiation on a nuclear weapons convention.” We believe this is a challenge governments are ready to rise to, but they need a bit of encouragement from civil society. I do hope you will all make the “special conference” one of your key objectives in 2011. To achieve our overall goal within the 2020 timeframe, we will have to generate tremendous global momentum. People everywhere will have to press their nations hard to develop the political will required to abolish nuclear weapons. In this context, your Congress is a wonderful opportunity to discuss our future without nuclear weapons, and I hereby express my deepest respect for your commitment and endeavors. Eliminating nuclear weapons from the world will be one of humanity’s greatest achievements. To celebrate this achievement in 2020, the City of Hiroshima is exploring the feasibility of bidding for the 2020 Olympics, which we would make a “Festival of Peace.” I sincerely hope that, with your support, we can make our two dreams — a nuclear-weapon-free world and the Hiroshima Olympics — come true in the current decade. I have no doubt that your Congress will lead to an influential outcome that will guide the international community to a powerful unified campaign.

Tadatoshi Akiba

Mayor

The City of Hiroshima

Press Information from the IPPNW 19th World Congress in Basel

“The danger that nuclear weapons will be used in the future is underestimated” warned Prof. Dr. Andreas Nidecker, President of the Organisation Committee for the Swiss affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, on the eve of IPPNW’s World Congress, taking place this year in Switzerland. As many as 800 doctors and medical students are expected to meet in Basel to discuss the status of disarmament efforts and debate how to reach a world without nuclear weapons.

At the Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) this spring in New York, the Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey labelled nuclear weapons as “illegal”. She announced Switzerland’s support for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), a legal framework that would complement Article VI of the NPT. This article obligates the Nuclear Weapon States to eliminate their nuclear weapons. “Switzerland is new to the large circle of NWC supporters that are promoting a rapid implementation of Article VI” said Nidecker. He sees a next step towards abolition of nuclear weapons as being the creation of nuclear weapon-free zones. The final document of the NPT Review Conference contains the obligation to create a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East. A conference is to take place in 2010 with all the affected countries to agree upon the first binding measures to establish such a zone.

Prof. Tilman Ruff, Chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN) is a vehement supporter of a NWC. ICAN was started two years ago as a citizen’s movement taking up the call of an overwhelming majority of the world’s population and 140 governments for a world free of nuclear weapons. “Every type of indiscriminate, inhumane weapon that has been banned was abolished through a treaty. Chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions – why not nuclear weapons too?” asks the Australian IPPNW doctor. “The medical prescription is clear: negotiating a Nuclear Weapons Convention  is the most urgent priority for global health,” said Ruff.

Dr. Claudio Knüsli, President of the Swiss IPPNW affiliate, pointed out the damage to health caused by radiation from the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The incidence of cancer, and also heart disease, is still increasing in the victims. New findings show that the risk posed by radioactivity has been underestimated up until now. This has substantial consequences for the basis for future calculation.

The issue of major economic interests at work behind nuclear armament is the subject that Steven Staples is presenting at the IPPNW World Congress. The Canadian disarmament expert thinks that the financial crisis has revealed that the G8 is becoming increasingly dependent on the help of developing countries with growing markets to solve global crises. “Power is shifting away from the traditional economic and military powers, towards many new states which do not see nuclear weapons as a requisite for their own global influence or national prestige,” said the Director of the Canadian Rideau Institute. He believes that this shift will delegitimise nuclear weapons as a symbol of power and strengthen the growing international call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Alex Rosen, a young paediatrician from Düsseldorf, relies on public education. He and a group of 40 young medics from all over the world rode bicycles 700 kilometres from Düsseldorf to the IPPNW Congress in Basel, in order to canvass support for a nuclear weapon-free Europe. On their way from Germany to Switzerland, they met with politicians, organised publicity events in inner cities and talked to passers-by about abolishing nuclear weapons. Medical students continue the decades-old commitment of the IPPNW founders and today’s activists.

Contact person: Angelika Wilmen, IPPNW, Tel. 0049 (0)162 205 79 43, IPPNW Germany, Körtestr. 10, 10967 Berlin, Email: wilmen@ippnw.de, www.ippnw.de; Claudia Bürgler, PSR / IPPNW Schweiz, ÄrztInnen für soziale Verantwortung/ zur Verhütung eines Atomkrieges, Klosterberg 23, CH-4051 Basel, Tel./Fax 0041 (0) 61 271 50 25, sekretariat@ippnw.ch, http://www.ippnw.ch

Sixty-five years ago this month, the United States exploded the first atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the world entered an age of unthinkable peril from which we have yet to free ourselves. A single nuclear weapon can destroy a city; 100 Hiroshima-sized warheads can kill tens of millions of people outright and disrupt the global climate so severely that a billion lives could be lost to famine and epidemic disease; an exchange of the thousands of nuclear weapons still deployed by the US and Russia would make the Earth itself an uninhabitable wasteland.

If nuclear weapons were a deadly virus with the potential to sicken and kill hundreds of millions of people in a global epidemic, the nations of the world would spare no expense to contain and eradicate it. We have done this with smallpox, tuberculosis, and polio, and we are marshalling our resources today against HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other emerging health threats. Unlike contagious diseases, however, we have brought this nuclear danger upon ourselves. Nuclear weapons are manmade products. They are more horrifying in their effects than any virus, but eradicating them is actually a simpler task, requiring little more than a firm decision to disarm and the resolve to see that decision through to a conclusion.

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War believes that universal nuclear disarmament is the most urgent health and security priority of our time, matched only by the need to prevent catastrophic damage to the Earth’s climate. Medical organizations around the world, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, the World Medical Association, and many national medical associations have echoed our conviction that eliminating nuclear weapons is the only sure way to prevent their use.

A Nuclear Weapons Convention, requiring all nuclear-armed nations to eliminate their arsenals and prohibiting all nations from acquiring nuclear weapons in the future, is the most effective and practical way to guard against a humanitarian catastrophe of our own making. Such conventions already exist to prohibit chemical and biological weapons, antipersonnel landmines and cluster bombs. It is long past time that nuclear weapons are renounced and their threat removed in the same way. Nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented; dismantling them and ensuring that they are never used again is within our power.

We welcomed President Obama’s declaration in Prague that he wants to work for “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Since then, we have heard opponents of nuclear disarmament claim that reaching this goal will take decades. They say abolition must be postponed until we have more peace and more security in the world. Some even argue that the goal of zero is wrong and that nuclear weapons—in some hands but not others—actually enhance stability and security. They try to reassure the public that deterrence works. The nuclear-weapon states—despite their new positive rhetoric about nuclear disarmament—plan to maintain hundreds and thousands of nuclear weapons in their arsenals for decades, claiming national security as their justification. None of these arguments stand up to scrutiny.

Nuclear abolition is an essential step toward more peace and security in the world. “Nuclear weapons for some but not for all” is a formula for proliferation and instability, as is evident in North Asia and the Middle East. The expectation that deterrence—which is a euphemism for threatening to incinerate entire populations—will never fail is a delusion.

Abolition is indisputably the right goal; a fast and determined pace is essential; and the only thing standing in the way of a nuclear-weapons-free world is political intransigence. Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba and mayors in more than 4,000 cities have called for a nuclear-weapons-free world by 2020. Ten years is more than enough time to complete this task, and IPPNW stands with Mayors for Peace in making this demand.

The global expansion of nuclear energy, which is being aggressively promoted by the industry and by governments with a vested economic interest in nuclear fuel production, is a serious impediment to nuclear disarmament. Nuclear energy is not a viable solution to the problem of climate change and endangers health and the environment in every aspect of its operations. In addition to the proliferation risks inherent in nuclear power plants, the reactors themselves are targets. We should be reducing, not increasing, the numbers of those targets. Moreover, nuclear energy is a prohibitively expensive means of meeting the world’s energy needs. IPPNW supports the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), whose mandate is to promote renewable energy sources worldwide, to increase energy security, and to enable economic and social development without reliance on fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

We recognize that there are steps to any journey, and we support the New START between the US and Russia as a modest step in the right direction. Entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which should have happened years ago, is another such step that should be accomplished immediately. Other constructive steps would include no-first-use declarations by all the nuclear-weapon states, removal of US tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, a ban on the production of fissile materials, removing nuclear delivery systems from high alert, and halting modernization programs for new weapons and for the infrastructure to produce and test them. The health professions themselves have a responsibility to end medically related commerce in weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU) by converting all reactors used to produce radiopharmaceuticals to low enriched uranium (LEU). All of these steps can and should be taken immediately.

None of these steps, however, is a substitute for—or a prerequisite for—negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear disarmament agreement. Delays implementing particular arms control measures must not impede the overarching goal of getting to zero promptly. This is why IPPNW launched the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons—ICAN—in 2007, to build public and governmental support for a Nuclear Weapons Convention that will rid the world of these instruments of mass extermination.

Nuclear war is the most extreme form of armed violence ever devised, but it is not the only one. Since the end of the Cold War, wars and other military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkan states, former Soviet republics, the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America have claimed millions of lives, mostly among non-combatants. Small arms are involved in wars and crimes, suicides and accidents that result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of injuries each year. Moreover, the use of small arms and other conventional weapons can all too easily escalate to the use of nuclear weapons, especially in the most volatile regions of the world. The WHO has identified violence, including armed violence, as an important and preventable health problem, requiring public health approaches to better understand the root causes and to mount effective interventions. This is the goal of IPPNW’s Aiming For Prevention program, which is now in its 10th year.

Peace, security, and freedom are the rights of all people, and the most effective pathway to achieving these rights globally is the Millennium Development Goals. Armed violence of all kinds is a threat to human security and to development. The public health dimensions of this global problem, however, are poorly understood. In order to reduce the high rates of injury and death from intentional violence, we need action-oriented research, education, and advocacy in support of prevention policies at all levels of society. Recognizing that health and development are intricately linked, IPPNW came out as an early supporter of the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, which calls for a measurable reduction in the global burden of armed violence and tangible improvements in human security by 2015.

As we gather in Basel at our 19th World Congress to mark IPPNW’s 30th anniversary and our 25th anniversary as a Nobel Peace Laureate, IPPNW recommits itself to ridding the world of nuclear weapons—our first and highest priority—and to preventing war as an obsolete and ineffective means of providing for our collective security—a means that is unworthy of humanity.

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, former resident of Basel once said: ‘One must have a good memory to be able to keep the promises one makes.’

Thus, with this introductory post, I am starting to fulfil the promise I made a couple of weeks ago to become a conference blogger, namely to report on the proceedings of the IPPNW Basel congress and my experiences thereof.

I’ve started the long journey from Durham, UK, to Basel, Switzerland and very much looking forward to my first trip to that country and my first IPPNW congress.

Though there will undoubtedly be a number of notable differences between my home and my destination, I also see similarities between both Durham and Basel: both are ancient cities full of historical significance, situated in the North of their respective countries with a picturesque river running through. Both localities are also home to old and prestigious universities; (Basel hosts Switzerland’s oldest university founded in 1459)

So, I am anticipating swapping the scenery of the river Wear for the Rhine and exchanging the shade of Durham Cathedral for the Basel Munster. Most of all, I am excited about meeting fellow doctors and medical students from all parts of the world, who have in common a desire to see a world free of nuclear weapons and other threats to global peace, health and security.

Basel, situated where the French, German and Swiss borders meet, seems to have a history of being host to a number of noteworthy peace promoting conventions throughout the centuries. The ‘Treaty of Basel’, signed on 1499 ended the conflict between the Old Swiss Confederacy and the House of Habsburg. The ‘Peace of Basel’ signed in 1795 heralded the end of the end of the war between the revolutionary French Republic and the Prussian-Spanish alliance. Other notable meetings to have taken place in Basel include a congress of the Second International (a worldwide coalition of Socialist and Labour parties)- at which the ‘Basel Manifesto’ was adopted. The manifesto called upon the working peoples of the world to conduct a campaign against war and those who foment it.

Let’s hope the 19th IPPNW World Congress proves to be momentous enough to earn its place in the chronicles of Basel and even world history.

Tomasz Pierscionek (UK)

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