United Nations: Negotiations to ban nuclear weapons make a good start, despite opposition of nuclear-armed states


by Jonathan Frerichs
UN in Geneva Representative

These negotiations pit a world majority pledged never to have nuclear weapons against a tiny minority of mostly powerful states that show little sign of giving them up. The talks face concerted opposition from nuclear-armed governments and their allies. 

“This treaty can and will change the world,” an 85-year-old survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima, Setsuko Thurlow, told the negotiators. With no defenders of nuclear weapons in the hall, her impassioned plea evoked sustained applause from normally stoic diplomats. 

Pax Christi members in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America have been lobbying their governments to support the ban negotiations for a year. 

“We consider it a milestone that nuclear weapons be explicitly banned by international treaty,” Pax Christi International said in a call to all governments to participate in the talks. “We see the treaty as an exercise in the moral values and global responsibilities required to build a more secure and sustainable world.”

The United States ambassador to the UN staged a protest outside the door of the UN General Assembly as the talks began. She declared that a ban would “favor bad actors” and that nuclear powers “keep peace in a way that does no harm”. Ambassadors from two nuclear allies and several other states that rely on the U.S. nuclear arsenal joined in her protest and boycott of the talks. 

Inside the hall, a message of encouragement from Pope Francis was read. Later, the Holy See told the negotiators: “This conference is an act of defiance against the logic of fear. We may not immediately see it as an act of love, but surely it is a moment when together we live our collective humanity … honoring our commitment to our contemporaries and keeping our promise to generations yet unborn.”

Ecumenical delegates are urging their governments to adopt a “human-centered” treaty which includes a robust prohibition, has strong majority support with or without the nuclear-armed states, builds on existing legal commitments including international humanitarian law, and contributes to a more sustainable future. 

The first week of negotiations demonstrated the broad support for the new treaty to ban the development, possession and use of nuclear weapons. Many states and civil society groups advocated that the treaty include positive obligations such as assistance for nuclear victims and clean-up of environmental damage from nuclear detonations.

The month-long negotiations will resume in mid-June for three more weeks.

“Our respective faith traditions advocate for the right of all people to live in security and dignity,” Jasmin Nario-Galace of Pax Christi Pilipinas said in delivering a joint inter-religious statement to the conference co-sponsored by Pax Christi International. “There is no countervailing imperative … that justifies the continued existence [of nuclear weapons], much less their use.”

The majority support for the treaty and the minority opposition is illustrated in a world map of ban support issued by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which includes Pax Christi International.

Each morning of the talks, Pax Christi members from various countries joined an inter-faith vigil at the Isaiah Wall facing the United Nations, beneath an inscription calling for swords to be transformed into ploughshares.



The nuclear weapons ban treaty is one of our advocacy priorities. Find out more here.



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