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12 May 2005, No. 9

Now THIS is a Conference
Rhianna Tyson | WILPF


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Nearly every seat in the conference hall was filled; most every State party had several delegates sitting behind their respective nameplate. The observer galleries were overfilled with NGOs and journalists. The statements delivered were chock full of substantive information, views and recommendations for moving the international disarmament and nonproliferation regime forward.

If only the governmental plenaries were conducted in this manner.

On Wednesday, the Conference held its official session dedicated to presentations from international civil society. These 15+ statements had been drafted, edited, re-written, re-written and re-written amongst dozens of NGOs. The speakers represented only a fraction of the amount of people who had been working on these statements for months, in an open process that took place online in listserves, conference calls and in-person meetings.

Xanthe Hall of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War opened the session by outlining seven truths that demonstrate “Why Nuclear Weapons are Obsolete.” “If you point nuclear weapons at anyone,” said the British-German representative of IPPNW, “then they are pointed at you.” Sometimes these simple, obvious facts are the much-needed splash of cold water needed to wake the delegates up from their procedural sleepwalk.

WILPF’s Alexandra Sundberg spoke on the issue of transparency, highlighting the need for increased reporting and NGO participation in and access to the NPT meetings. Judging by the way the delegates swarmed the new table of NGO information papers, Sundberg’s call for increased interaction with NGOs resonated well with States parties, which have been equally thirsty for more interaction with NGOs than had previously been accorded at this Conference.

Two US affiliates of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms tag-teamed a presentation on Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) Compliance to Article VI. Jackie Cabasso of Western States Legal Foundation tackled the first segment of Article VI- the cessation of the nuclear arms race; Michael Spies of Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP) analyzed the NWS’ compliance to nuclear disarmament; and John Burroughs of LCNP assessed their compliance to the final segment of Article VI- general and complete disarmament. These three presentations, supersaturated with evidence of NWS vertical proliferation, should have confirmed (if anyone was still in doubt), that the international disarmament regime is facing its greatest crisis of noncompliance in its history.

Helen Caldicott decried the dangers of nuclear energy while Tony de Brum offered his perspective, as a Marshall Islander, on the nuclear age. Lou Zeller, of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, outlined the dangers of reprocessing military plutonium wastes into fuel- a very timely speech given the massive radioactive spill at the UK’s Sellafield reprocessing plant that occurred just two days ago.

Two young women, Natalie Wasley and Tina Keim, delivered a riveting speech on behalf of the youth of the world, followed by an overview of NATO nuclear sharing, delivered by the British-American Security Information Council’s Carol Naughton.

The Conference also heard a psychological take on the nuclear age, a plea from the religious community, a heart-wrenching appeal from hibakusha as well as concrete plans for keeping Northeast Asia nuclear-free.

Felix Fellmer of the International Law Campaign offered 4 straight-forward recommendations: make commitments in good faith; transition from nuclear energy to renewable energy; criminalize all nuclear weapons as immoral and illegal (by States as well as non-state actors); and start negotiating abolition. These recommendations were intended to supplement the more lengthy set of concrete recommendations, distributed to all delegates as an appendix to the presentations, which we hope they will take back to their capitols.

At the end of the three-hour session, and following a brief break for a short meeting of the General Committee, President Duarte announced that, at long, long last, there was agreement on an agenda and that, after another brief General Committee meeting tomorrow morning, substantive work of the Conference will commence immediately.

There is something beautifully symbolic about the timing of this announcement. It was if all the Conference needed to jump start substantive negotiations was the humanitarian injection that only civil society can provide.

Imagine that– a conference, with every delegation present, paying rapt attention to the speaker on the microphone, buttressed by a critical political will to move issues forward and work toward saving the world from the scourge of nuclear weapons.

Now that, distinguished delegates, is a conference.

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