On Thursday 27th, the Peace Foundation team flew to Wellington to attend the symposium on the 30th anniversary of the Nuclear Free Zone Act, organised by the Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control (PACDAC). The event was held in the Parliament Buildings and gathered a crowd of young people, nuclear free veterans and politicians eager to attend this special commemorative event.
The public enjoyed hearing quality speakers such as Wayne Mapp, from PACDAC, and MP Shane Reti who opened the symposium with strong statements on the need for disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation. They were followed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, former NZ Prime Minister, who addressed the significance of the 1987 New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act. Ambassador Dell Higgie closed the panel with a powerful address on the outcome of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty negotiations.
The first panel featured MP Kennedy Graham, Rod Alley and long-time activist Maire Leadbeater on NZ history and leadership on disarmament issues.
In the second panel, along with MP Adrian Rurawhe, our very own Lucy Stewart and Lyndon Burford, both NZ cvil society representatives at the U.N. during the Ban Treaty negotiations, were scheduled as speakers to talk about the future opportunities for New Zealand to promote peace and disarmament. They highlighted the need to build on the achievement of the Treaty, particularly by involving the youth.
Photo credit: Eva Kaprinay
Lucy reported on her work with schools around the country, to engage students and teachers in NZ nuclear free history and in the Ban Treaty negotiations. Students definitely felt the uniqueness of the moment and they were really proud to be a part of it, considering the country’s legacy in the area, she said. However, in spite of the Kiwi team’s hard work to raise awareness among the youth, the topic is far from being mainstream. There is still work to do to involve more teachers and get them to add new materials to civic education and social science curriculum. The key is to find a modern and creative way to teach the nuclear free topic as a whole and keep it focused to the future: how can NZ engage with the Ban Treaty? Can we work with other countries to achieve its aspirations?
The successful negotiations in NY have proved that there is a new narrative around Global Citizenship that is ready to be picked up: there is now a clear connection between Human Rights Law and nuclear issues, with new concerns such as the protection of civilians and the environment. The Treaty includes clauses on giving remediation to the victims and contaminated sites and acknowledges the socioeconomic costs of nuclear weapons.
Lucy made a clear point about how disarmament advocacy has changed since the grassroots campaigns that led to NZ nuclear free legislation. Today, a great part of activism revolves around social media: various platforms were used to release the progress of the negotiations in New York. ICAN was particularly efficient at using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube to share its content across the globe, with its #nuclearban, Thunderclap, live-tweeting from the conference room and video tweet of the treaty adoption that went viral. It was much easier to engage people through social media than through traditional media channels such as the press and the radio – despite all their efforts, the four Kiwis delegates admit they did not get as much coverage as they wanted to, which is disappointing considering the scale of the event. Yet the youth is active on social media and responsive to the content created to celebrate the 30th anniversary of NZ nuclear free legislation. It’s now up to PACDAC to pick up the trend and engage in the digital space to reach the public!
PACDAC was established under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control and is a safeguard to the country’s nuclear free status. Working across a wide array of peace and disarmament issues, PACDAC funds projects, research, internships and individuals working for the promotion of arms control and raising public awareness in those areas. The committee is always on the look for passionate New Zealanders willing to get involved in their work! Check out PACDAC’s Facebook page for further updates.
A big thanks to PACDAC for putting on this great event, it was a fantastic way to celebrate NZ’s nuclear free legislation and reinvigorate public awareness of this issue. Let’s hope this is an annual event!