Bittersweet Ceremony as Nuclear Powers Snub UN Ban Treaty

Terumi Tanaka was 13 years old when the United States dropped an atomic bomb roughly 3 miles from his home in Nagasaki, Japan, bringing an end to World War II in 1945. Attending a Sept. 20, 2017, ceremony at the United Nations, Tanaka told reporters that the signing of a treaty banning nuclear weapons brought tears to his eyes. (ADAM KLASFELD, Courthouse News Service)

UNITED NATIONS (CN) — A survivor the atomic bomb that hit Nagasaki, Japan, became teary-eyed at United Nations headquarters Wednesday morning as more than 50 member states signed a landmark ban against nuclear weapons.

“This is something I have been waiting for a long time,” said Terumi Tanaka, who was 13 years old when the bomb landed near his home in August 1945.

Tanaka said the signing of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons left him joyful about the accomplishment, but also rueful that the Japanese government and every nuclear power snubbed it.

Kyoko Toyama, a translator for Tanaka who works as an associate professor for the City University of New York’s LaGuardia Community College, shed light on why today’s ceremony made 83-year-old Tanaka emotional.

“Something that he was dreaming came true,” Toyama told Courthouse News. “Imagine all these people who died suddenly on that day, about 10,000. And he remembered all these people who are dead, sort of under the house. And they were left alone, nobody touched them. So, that memory of dead bodies, burned bodies, under the house.”

Tanaka noted that the treaty is long overdue but that it will not conclude his work to do with the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization.

With North Korea sending its second missile over Japan less than a week ago, Tanaka emphasized that no fear of foreign attack justifies nuclear aspirations.

“I think that the countries that possess nuclear weapons, they want to possess it because they think they can protect themselves, for their safety, for their security, but actually they don’t understand the devastation that might happen if the weapons are used,” he told Courthouse News. “Those are the countries that don’t understand the outcomes of the usage of the nuclear weapons. Therefore, it’s more necessary for all of us who are working for the total ban to really educate not only the government, also people.”

In addition to Japan, none of the known or suspected members of the nuclear club — the United States, Russia, Great Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — supports the ban, though Palestine does.

Tanaka blamed the Japanese government’s snub of this morning’s ceremony in part on its “colonial” relationship with the United States.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, President of the General Assembly Miroslav Miroslav Lajcak, Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera and others prepare for Sept. 20, 2017, ceremony on their Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. (ADAM KLASFELD, Courthouse News Service)

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the signing an “important step” toward a nuclear-free future.

“We cannot allow these doomsday weapons to endanger the world and our children’s futures,” he said.

General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak acknowledged the long road ahead even after the measure passed with a 122-1 margin.

“Unfortunately our work isn’t done,” she said. “It isn’t even close to being done.”

The lone vote against Wednesday’s treaty came from the Netherlands, which was also the sole NATO member to cast a vote.

“Broad support for this treaty – including by nuclear weapons possessors – is still far away,” the Netherlands said in an unsigned statement.

A key force behind Wednesday’s vote was Costa Rica, which has no standing army; the country abolished its military after its 1948 civil war in favor of funding education.

“The 20th century witnessed some of the greatest and most atrocious conflicts that humanity has experienced,” Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera said before the General Assembly on Tuesday. “The end of World War II marked an even greater threat, one with the potential — now possible — to destroy us as a species. The nuclear arms race was, for much of the second half of the last century, a constant concern that threatened the continuity of the human family.”

Before adding his signature to the treaty, Solis noted during the ceremony Wednesday that the nations conducted negotiations in the open, without using backroom channels.

Brazilian President Michel Temer, one of the signers, called his participation in the treaty an honor as he kicked off the General Assembly debate on Monday.

“Brazil was among the drafters of the treaty,” Temer had said. “It will be a historical moment. We reiterate our call for the nuclear powers to undertake additional disarmament commitments.”

Calling Brazil an “authority” on the issue, Temer said his nation willingly gave up nuclear weapons, and banned it in its constitution.

Temer’s speech directly preceded that of President Donald Trump, who used his U.N. platform to threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea if it continued its nuclear tests.

In addition to Costa Rica and Brazil, fellow Latin American countries Cuba, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela participated in the signing.

Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno is expected to sign the treaty this afternoon.

A Vatican representative brought the instruments of ratification.

The treaty does have some European supporters, notably Austria and Ireland. Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz defended the agreement against the claim that it is not realistic.

“Today we often hear that nuclear weapons are necessary for security,” Kurz told the General Assembly on Monday. “This narrative is not only wrong, it is dangerous. The new treaty provides a real alternative: a world without nuclear weapons, where everyone is safer.”

Japan was a notable absence, as the only victim of atomic bombs.

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera (right), whose country has no standing army, opened the Sept. 20, 2017, signing ceremony for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted that morning. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is seated to the leader’s left, with the treaty in the foreground.

During his address Tuesday, Trump repeatedly quoted President Harry Truman, who quickly brought an end to World War II by ordering the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Interpreting Trump’s speech and “fire and fury” rhetoric as a threat of nuclear war, Tanaka reminded the U.S. president that the use of nuclear weapons is illegal.

“So hearing from someone who’s the head of the country to really put pressure possibly using the nuclear weapons, it’s really angering him, and not acceptable,” Toyama, the interpreter, said in an interview.

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