Standing shoulder to shoulder with survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima, a deeply moved Secretary-General on Friday paid respect to all those who perished there 65 years ago and stressed that the time has come to realize the dream of a world free of nuclear weapons.
“A more peaceful world can be ours,” Ban Ki-moon said in remarks to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony held in Japan.
Mr. Ban, the first UN Secretary-General to take part in the ceremony, was one year old when the atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, resulting in the deaths of more than 200,000 people.
More than 400,000 more people have died – and are continuing to die – since the end of the Second World War from the impacts of those bombs.
“Only later in life could I begin to understand the full dimension of all that happened here,” said the UN chief.
Mr. Ban has made nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation a top priority, and put forward a five-point plan in 2008 that includes recommendations on increasing security, verification, establishing a legal framework for nuclear disarmament, transparency and conventional weapons.
“Our moment has come,” he said, noting recent progress on the issue, including new leadership from the most powerful nations, new engagement in the Security Council, and new energy from civil society.
At the same time, it is vital to keep up the momentum, he said, adding that he will convene a Conference on Disarmament in New York in September, where he will push for negotiations towards nuclear disarmament.
He also highlighted the need for disarmament education in schools, including translating the testimonies of the survivors in the world's major languages, as well as teaching that “status and prestige belong not to those who possess nuclear weapons, but to those who reject them.”
The Secretary-General arrived in Hiroshima after spending what he described as “a profoundly moving day” in Nagasaki, where he toured the Atomic Bomb Museum and met with a number of survivors. He also laid a wreath at the monument located at ground zero, and visited a separate memorial for Korean victims.
He said his visit to Nagasaki had strengthened his conviction that nuclear weapons must be outlawed, and he urged all nations to support his five-point action plan and agree to negotiate a nuclear weapons convention at the earliest possible date.
“Together, we are on a journey from ground zero to Global Zero – a world free of weapons of mass destruction. That is the only sane path to a safer world?
“Let us realize our dream of a world free of nuclear weapons so that our children and all succeeding generations can live in freedom, security and peace,” Mr. Ban stated.
In both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he met with hibakusha, or victims of the bombings.
The Secretary-General told reporters in Hiroshima that those meetings “have strengthened my determination to work even harder” to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.
“The suffering was unimaginable and the courage and fortitude had been extraordinary,” he said, describing their devotion to ridding the world of the weapons as inspirational.
Mr. Ban also stressed today in remarks at a welcome ceremony in Hiroshima that abolishing nuclear weapons is “more than our common dream; it is common sense policy.”
There have been some encouraging new commitments made by the world’s nuclear powers, he said, including the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) reached by the United States and Russia, under which they pledged to cut back on their stockpiles by a third.
The Secretary-General also pointed to progress made at both the high-level Washington Summit on Nuclear Security and the recent review conference of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) held at the United Nations.
“Above all,” he said, there has been a “rising chorus of conscience from civil society,” such as the Mayors for Peace movement, bringing together more than 4,000 mayors from around the world, as well as representatives of the world’s religions, lawyers, doctors, environmentalists, labour leaders, women, human rights activists, parliamentarians and others.
“Even former military officials are speaking out: statesmen once responsible for nuclear weapons policies,” Mr. Ban noted.
While governments bear the primary responsibility for peace, he also underscored the key role that business can play in an address to the Global Compact Network.
A company’s investment and employment decisions, its relations with communities, and its actions on the environment and security “can create or exacerbate the tensions that fuel conflict… or they can help a country remain at peace,” he emphasized.