Religious voices express concern at humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons
In an unprecedented show of global public concern that included strong religious voices, 500 civil society representatives and 132 governments met from March 2 to 5 in Oslo, Norway, to address the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons.
Diplomats, scientists, activists, religious leaders and film star Martin Sheen addressed a civil society forum and a government conference on the health, environmental and emergency impact of nuclear explosions.
The forum was organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) “no-nukes” network participate in the campaign and took part in Oslo.
“We strongly affirm the responsibility of all governments to examine the impact of nuclear weapons on human health, the biosphere and the means of life,” said the WCC general secretary the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in a statement delivered to governments by the coalition, Religions for Peace.
“People everywhere have been denied rigorous, public, evidence-based scrutiny of weapons which are too terrible for any use,” he added.
Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, told the forum, “It is obvious in a civilised world that nuclear weapons have no place. The way we are headed, we will glamorously destroy ourselves.”
“It is astounding that states have never before come together to address the humanitarian consequences [of nuclear weapons],” the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, told governments.
States fail to address human suffering at times, he said, but in the case of nuclear weapons, prevention and a ban are “the only way forward”. Red Cross and other studies shared at the meetings show national and international responses to a nuclear accident or conflict to be wholly inadequate.
The American actor Martin Sheen told a large public audience how, at a protest in the Nevada desert, he watched a line of nuns dance their way onto the United States nuclear test site and get arrested together. Their courage helped him to live his Christian faith, Sheen said, and he went on to be arrested scores of times himself.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons showed governments a sobering video about nuclear weapons.
A bishop from Japan, born of Hiroshima survivors, told how his father recovered from severe burns after the bombing of Hiroshima but died of radiation-induced blood cancer 30 years later. Bishop Laurence Yutaka Minabe is a hibakusha, a Japanese term that means “explosion-affected person”.
A Zambian physician, Dr Bob Mtonga, noted that regions which have renounced nuclear weapons, such as Africa and Latin America, provide “moral leadership” for international efforts to “free the world of nuclear weapons and prevent the global public health disaster that their use would create”.
At the end of the meetings in Oslo, the government of Mexico announced that it would host a follow-up conference to build on this humanitarian initiative of the Norwegian government.