Raising Youth Awareness on Nuclear Disarmament: The NZ Peace Foundation

Written by Arailym Kubayeva and Marie Lagarde, interns of the Peace Foundation

*With its programmes in schools, families and communities, the Peace Foundation, an Auckland-based NGO, helps to establish and maintain non-violent relationships by teaching skills that encourage better communication, co-operation and peaceful conflict resolution.

Globally, youth awareness regarding the dangers of nuclear weapons is low, yet experts across the world stress that the threat of nuclear war is even more acute today than it was thirty years ago.

Two landmark achievements in Nuclear Disarmament are occurring this year – June 8th 2017 is the 30th anniversary of New Zealand as a nuclear-free nation and the unprecedented negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty happening at the United Nations in June, with more than 130 countries participating. That is the reason why this year’s youth disarmament programmes: Schools’ Peace Week and REACT-presentations, are themed “Aotearoa New Zealand – 30 years Nuclear Free”, and focus on moving from a  nuclear free New Zealand, to a nuclear free world.

The New Zealand’s civil society agrees that nuclear disarmament is a crucial issue today, as experts say that the risk nuclear weapons represent is even more acute than it was 30 years ago. More countries now possess nuclear weapons, and the global political climate is becoming arguably less stable. Yet nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction that are currently not outlawed internationally, despite being the most destructive, inhumane weapons of terror ever invented. New Zealand, a pioneer in the anti-nuclear movement, is a valuable player on the international stage to achieve abolition of nuclear weapons, with its three-decade track record of success as a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. Yet, there is little public awareness on the issue today, especially for the young generation; it is crucial to reinvigorate their engagement. By centering its theme around the 30th anniversary of nuclear-free legislation in New Zealand, Schools’ Peace Week and the REACT-presentations highlight this critical issue and give a new dynamic to disarmament education. The events aim at raising awareness at how successful New Zealand has been in the area, in that it has denounced nuclear weapons, successfully maintained its nuclear free stance, and stayed on good terms with nuclear weapons states such as the US and the UK.

Schools’ Peace Week

The Peace Foundation has been organising Schools’ Peace Week for 17 years now. Last year it had a tremendous success with their best participation numbers – 264 schools across New Zealand and the globe (Pakistan, China, the USA, Jordan, and New Caledonia participating). This year there are 118 schools from 5 different countries apart from New Zealand which participate in this event. This year’s participants are from Kazakhstan, Germany, Kenya, Burkina Faso and Burundi.

Schools’ Peace Week is an international week of activities aiming to celebrate the work that students do in their own schools and neighbourhoods to create peaceful, supportive communities that young people can thrive in. For the past years, Schools’ Peace Week has covered a wide range of peace topics, such as ’’Collaboration for Peace’’, ’’Actions for Peace’’ and ’’Dialogue for Peace’’. This year is especially important for New Zealand’s society since it celebrates the 30th Anniversary of New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act. People from many different professional backgrounds (students, women, sports groups, Maori, religious groups, business networks, doctors’ and lawyers’ associations etc.) united to defend this act in the 1960s-80s as part of a nationwide anti-nuclear movement. This shaped the identity of New Zealand as a peacemaking nation. Schools’ Peace Week 2017 aims at honouring this legacy through its theme ’’Aotearoa / New Zealand – 30 years nuclear free’’ – using the hashtags #nucleafreeNZ, #nznf30 and #schoolspeaceweek.

Photo credit: Gil Hanly

Schools’ Peace Week is a unique way to engage the youth in the celebration of the country’s nuclear-free history and leadership in the area. During this week-long event, schools across the country will promote peace by engaging their students in various projects, from folding paper cranes, singing peace songs and designing peace symbols in primary schools to holding UN debates and role-plays on nuclear crises or writing to the nation leaders. Not only is this a great way to spark creativity among the youth, it also connects students from different countries – schools can organise Skype calls and pen pals networks to share their projects and thoughts during the week and after.

REACT-presentations

 

The ‘REACT’, which stands for ‘Responding to Armed Conflicts’, are the presentations which the Peace Foundation offers in high schools and communities in the wider Auckland region. The main aim of the programme is to inform young people about contemporary issues of armed conflict and to help them to become responsible global citizens and the leaders of tomorrow who value diversity, and practice tolerance, critical thinking and understanding. It’s important for the Peace Foundation to raise awareness and promote discussion among youth and present them with ways that they can engage in global issues in a peaceful way.

 

In the previous years, topics of REACT covered the issues of terrorism, Ebola and its connection to conflict and poverty, conflict in Sub-Saharan, child soldiers etc. This year’s REACT-presentations focus on the social campaigns that led New Zealand to become nuclear-free. These are, for example, Declaring Nuclear-Free Zones, the Peace Squadron and the World Court Project. The presentations with this theme have been successfully taken place in following schools: Westlake Girls High School, Papatoetoe High School, Glenfield College.

 

Lucy Stewart and Lyndon Burford speaking in front of a class of the Westlake Girls High School, March 10th.

In its drive to engage the youth in the nuclear-free movement, the Peace Foundation connected with Amnesty International, introducing the stakes of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty to its University of Auckland bureau. The students’ interest was sparked when they learned that presenter Lucy Stewart is attending the UN negotiations in June as a representative of New Zealand’s civil society. Amnesty International has a long-standing history of resistance against nuclear weapons, opposing their use, possession, production, transfer and arsenal funding. At the end of a 50-minute-long discussion on nuclear disarmament social campaigns, both teams agreed on how pressing those negotiations are, regarding the increasing tensions between the United States and North Korea, two nuclear powers currently ruled by unpredictable leaders. The students enjoyed the talk a lot, reporting it to be interesting and informative.

Peace Foundation representatives Temaleti, Marie, Arailym and Lucy (left), standing next to Amnesty International on Campus team, during their presentation on May 22nd at the University of Auckland.

Nuclear Ban Treaty

New Zealand co-sponsored the UN resolution to begin negotiations in 2017 on a legally binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons worldwide, an initiative that puts an end to two decades of paralysis in multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts. The first session, held in March, gathered delegates and civil society from 132 countries and ended on a successful note, with general agreement on what the new treaty should contain, prohibit and compel (see draft here). Presiding over the negotiations, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez of Costa Rica said on March 30 that the adoption of the treaty during the second round of talks scheduled to begin in June was ’’an achievable goal“.

From 15 June to 7 July, delegates from over 130 nations aim to finalise a treaty that will stigmatise nuclear weapons and the four NZ’s civil society representatives – Dr Kate Dewes, Dr Lyndon Burford, Lucy Stewart and Commander Robert Green, Royal Navy (Ret’d) – feel that their presence at the nuclear ban negotiations is a fitting way to mark the 30th anniversary, on 8 June 2017, of the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act.

The Peace Foundation will celebrate this anniversary on Sunday 11 June, with a public ceremony behind the War Memorial Museum in Auckland Domain. The celebration will begin with the formation of a giant human peace symbol, replicating the one that was achieved in 1983, at the highest point of the anti-nuclear movement. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff will then unveil a plaque next to the Pohutukawa Peace Tree, in honour of peace workers. Speeches from national leaders and live music will conclude the ceremony. This one-of-a-kind event is the occasion for Aucklanders to show their pride in Aotearoa New Zealand as a nuclear-free peacemaking nation, and to send a clear message to the rest of the world : it is time to ban the bomb!

Find other celebrations of the 30th anniversary of New Zealand Nuclear-Free legislation here.

Please follow and like us: