NPT event highlights cooperation between legislators and religious leaders

Event highlights religious principles and legal norms requiring nuclear abolition.
Japanese religious leaders and legislators adopt joint statement on nuclear disarmament. Joint initiative for 70th anniversary of Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombing.

Religions for Peace and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) held a special event at the United Nations in New York on May 8 to highlight the roles of legislators and religious leaders in nuclear disarmament. The event focused on cooperative actions between legislators and religious leaders and possibilities for further cooperation.

A Joint Statement on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons by Japanese Religious Leaders and Parliamentarians was released at the event. There was also the launch of an initiative to support cooperative actions by parliamentarians and religious leaders in other countries to commemorate the 70th anniversary this August of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki nuclear bombing.

Kenzo Fujisue, Member of the Japan House of Councillors, pleaded that the experiences of those like his mother in Nagasaki 70 years ago, must never be repeated.

Kenzo Fujisue MP and Aaron Tovish

My mother told me that, in the blue sky with no clouds, she watched at the mushroom-shaped purple cloud and she thought "What a beautiful cloud". And my mother told me that under this purple mushroom cloud, tens of thousands of people had been burned out instantly.
Speech of Kenzo Fujisue to the PNND/RfP event at the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

The Joint Statement of Japanese Religious leaders and parliamentarians, presented by Mr Fujisue, notes the connections between nuclear weapons, the legal norms which underpin parliamentary responsibility and the ethical principles which guide all religious traditions:

Members of parliament, respecting the principle of the rule of law, fully recognize that early realization of the elimination of nuclear weapons stockpile is an urgent legal demand, in view of the general principles of the international law and the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the “illegality of the use and the threat of use of nuclear weapons.” Religious leaders, embracing the “Golden Rule” of all religions, “Do not harm others,” are firmly convinced that early abolition of nuclear weapons causing indiscriminate mass killing of every life on earth is to contribute to the common good for all humanity.

Mr Fujisue reported that the statement was prepared by PNND Japan, which is a cross-party group of respected parliamentarians, and Religions for Peace Japan which includes leaders from the key religions in Japan. Mr Fujisue proposed that religious leaders and parliamentarians in other countries follow-suit.

Rev Sugino with the Nuclear Disarmament Resource Guide for Religious Leaders and Communities

Rev Kyoichi Sugino, Deputy Secretary-General of Religions for Peace, announced that Religions for Peace is currently working with PNND members in a couple of countries to adopt similar statements. Religions for Peace and PNND leadership at the event pledged to extend this to additional countries and to consider adopting a joint international statement in Hiroshima on August 6 (click here for the draft).

Dr Bill Vendley, Secretary-General of Religions for Peace, noted that religious leaders and faith-based communities have a vital role to highlight the legal obligation to achieve nuclear abolition, and to urge their governments to implement this obligation in good faith. In addition, religious leaders and faith-based communities can play an active role in bridging the divides between nations that fuel the nuclear arms race. ‘Often there are members of the same religious faith on both sides of the conflict’ noted Dr Vendley. ‘Their common faith can be used to open communication and dialogue channels, and also to highlight the commonalities between both sides as a basis for generating solutions and agreements.’

Alyn Ware, PNND Global Coordinator and principal author of the Resource Guide on Nuclear Disarmament for Religious Leaders and Communities, expanded on the common values between the major faiths and the connections to international law applicable to nuclear weapons. These include the principles of unity (the basis for human rights and equality) , reverence for life, reciprocity (sometimes called the ‘Golden Rule’), guardianship of the environment for current and future generations, and the development of shared security.  

He noted the importance of focusing on common security, i.e. where the security of all is the objective, not the false security of ‘me’ by threatening ‘you’ and lowering ‘your’ security. We must abandon the notion that security for a nation can be obtained by threatening other nations with destruction. In the 21st century, the religious principle of unity - that there is no division between us and them in the eyes of God - has emerged into the political reality of a globalised, interconnected world.

Imam Shamsi Ali, Chairman of the Al-Hikmah Mosque in Astoria, cited a number of key principles in Islam that render nuclear weapons to be prohibited. These include that nuclear weapons would destroy God’s creation, and that it would kill innocent civilians. 

Rev Gijun Sugitani highlighted the relevance of religious leaders and legislators acting on the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings. ‘As of August 6th, 2014, the number of victims of the effects of radiation from the bombs stood at 292,325. The DNA of atomic bomb victims received irreversible damage, and this injury of the sensitive human genome system is passed on to future generations. The severity of this suffering is beyond imagination and clearly illustrates the undeniable inhumanity in the use of atomic weapons.’

Panelists for the May 8 event

Rev Sugitani also noted that the commonality between religious doctrine and law is recognised by the highest legal authorities. He quoted C.W. Weeramantry, former Vice-President of the international Court of Justice – ‘All legal systems at their formative stages drew heavily upon religious principles, not in the sense of the dogma or the ritual of high religion, but upon the basic principles of morality which were contained in that body of religious teaching.’ See Presentation of Rev Sugitani (in Japanese and English).

Aaron Tovish, Director of the Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign, noted that ‘common’ appears to be a key term for mayors, parliamentarians and religious leaders. Mayors are responsible for common space. Parliamentarians should enact common sense in developing policy. Religious leaders should highlight common decency. And together these should establish common security.

Mr Tovish also highlighted opportunities to take forward nuclear disarmament in a common security framework such as the United Nations. The UN Open Ended Working Group in 2013 demonstrated that governments can bridge differences and explore cooperative approaches to nuclear disarmament. The UN decision to hold a High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament by 2018 provides an opportunity to take this forward – perhaps to adopt a simple prohibition treaty or an agreement by all States at the conference on a concrete roadmap to nuclear abolition including disarmament measures required and dates by which those measures should be implemented.

Rori Picker Ness, Coordinator of the Religions for Peace Youth Network

Rori Picker Neis, Coordinator of the Religions for Peace International Youth Network, noted that nuclear weapons illustrated the power of humanity to destroy. But they also remind us that humanity has the power to protect and create. The Religions for Peace Youth Program focuses on empowering youth to use this power to create peace. The youth-led Arms Down Campaign demonstrated this power. Launched in San Jose, Costa Rica in 2008 with the assistance of Costa Rica President Oscar Arias, the campaign secured over 21 million youth endorsers in just one year. The campaign had a simple call to abolish nuclear weapons, reduce military spending by 10%, and redirect these resources into meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals.

A number of issues were raised by participants in the discussion period, including gender representation, connection to environmental movements and the ecocide campaign, and action by parliamentarians and religious communities on key days, such as International Day for Peace (Sep 21) and International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

In response it was noted that PNND leads by example on gender representation based on merit. The first five PNND Co-Presidents, for example, were all women.  One of the relevant actions they took as Co-Presidents was to present a joint statement on nuclear disarmament and human security to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in 2008.

Religions for Peace established a Women’s Mobilization Program in 1998 in order to advance the role of women in their religious communities and in the field of development, peace-making and post-conflict reconstruction.

With regard to connections to the environmental movement including the Ecocide Campaign, Mr Ware noted that parliamentarians had been very active in the Global Wave initiative in April 2015, which called for the governments at the NPT Review Conference to agree on a nuclear abolition plan. Many of the Global Wave actions took place on Earth Day and at Earth Day commemorations. PNND has informed its members of the Ecocide campaign and some are taking part.

Regarding the international days, PNND has co-sponsored UNFOLD ZERO, a platform for highlighting opportunities in the United Nations to promote and facilitate a nuclear weapon free world. UNFOLD ZERO coordinated global civil society actions on the first International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons last year and is starting the planning for this year. This would include ideas on how to link it with the International Day for Peace. Both of them occur as the world leaders are at the United Nations for the start of the UN General Assembly, and just before the UNGA deliberations on disarmament in October. It’s therefore a perfect time for cooperative actions by religious communities, legislators and others in civil society.

Monica Willard from United Religious Initiative shared a beautiful Prayer for those whose hearts carry the weight of nuclear weapons. The prayer was part of the Peace and Planet interfaith convocation held at the Church Centre just before the NPT Review Conference, and is being circulated for use on the Hiroshima/Nagasaki anniversaries, International Peace Day and the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

The event was closed with a short summary by Dr Vendley and a moment of reflective silence led by Rev Sugino.

Joint statement by parliamentarians, mayors and religious leaders to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the onset of the nuclear age and the foundation of the United Nations (English, French, German, Japanese, Spanish).