Indigenous rights, disarmament education and banning nuclear threats

Indigenous people’s rights featured heavily again on the second day of #NuclearBan negotiations for a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. Discussions often returned to the need to ensure adequate assistance to the victims of nuclear weapons development, use and testing. Other key themes for the day were the importance of disarmament education, and again, the need to make sure the nuclear weapons ban treaty prohibits the threat of use, not just the actual use, of the weapons.

There were powerful statements from the Pacific Region. Karina Lester, an Aboriginal Australian women, spoke of the generations of her family, and many other Aboriginal Australians, harmed by radioactive fallout from British nuclear weapons testing in Australia: cancers, respiratory problems, auto-immune problems. (These are issues that the BBC has also reported on in recent years.) Karina spoke of her father being blinded by a nuclear test in South Australia in 1953, and read a statement endorsed by indigenous peoples from Australia, French Polynesia, the United States and the Marshall Islands, highlighting the harm to humans, but also to the land and oceans, from nuclear weapons.

Fiji and the Marshall Island also offered powerful statements from a Pacific perspective, echoing the concerns for the harm that the development and testing of nuclear weapons has done to not just to humans, but also to terrestrial and marine environments. Fiji stated that the ban treaty must affirm that nuclear weapons and their associated policies contravene not just international humanitarian law (aka the “laws of war”, which define the types of behaviour allowed in wartime) but also human rights and environmental law—a point that New Zealand also supports. The significance of this is that the latter two areas of law apply at all times, not just when a country is at war. In other words, the threat or use of nuclear weapons are illegal at all times and in all circumstances. There was broad support among governmental delegations for this position. 

Indigenous Maori women of Aotearoa New Zealand speak out for nuclear disarmament

Disarmament education was another theme on day two which featured heavily, and received almost unanimous support from the delegations that spoke. Such education is essential, as noted in the UN report on disarmament and nonproliferation education release in 2002. In the New Zealand context, for example, the public are still strongly in favour of our nuclear free law, but how many people actually follow government’s policies on nuclear disarmament? The most common question I heard while researching my PhD on the topic was “oh, do we have a policy on that?”

Well, heads up New Zealand, yes we do, and they’re generally pretty good ones! And if you’re interested in learning more about it, the government maintains two significant trusts which provide New Zealanders with funding for disarmament research, education and projects. The Peace and Disarmament Education Trust (PADET) provides scholarships for MA and PhD theses on disarmament-related topics, and also offers one-off grants for community-based projects. The Disarmament Education UN Implementation Fund provides operational costs for civil society organisations whose work contributes to greater public awareness and understanding of disarmament and arms control issues. So if you’ve got an inspired project to promote awareness of peace and disarmament-related issues, get cracking! The next application round for both funds closes on 5 July. (Hint: as it’s the 30th anniversary of the NZ Nuclear Free Zone Law, the committee is keen to see applications focused on that point…)

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