It is totally unacceptable for states in possession of nuclear weapons to admit the possibility of a nuclear war, António Guterres underscored early on Saturday in Japan at a ceremony marking the 77th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
“Nuclear weapons are nonsense. Three-quarters of a century later, we must ask what we’ve learned from the mushroom cloud that swelled above this city in 1945”, he urged during the solemn event at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park attended by dozens of people, including hibakusha, young peace activists, Japan’s Prime Minister and other local authorities.
The UN Secretary-General warned that a new arms race is picking up speed and world leaders are enhancing stockpiles at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars with almost 13,000 nuclear weapons currently held in arsenals around the world.
“…Crises with grave nuclear undertones are spreading fast — from the Middle East to the Korean peninsula, to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine… Humanity is playing with a loaded gun”, he cautioned.
Guterres called the current Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in New York a ‘sign of hope’.
“Today, from this sacred space, I call on this Treaty’s members to work urgently to eliminate the stockpiles that threaten our future, to strengthen dialogue, diplomacy and negotiation, and to support my disarmament agenda by eliminating these devices of destruction”, he emphasized.
He underscored that countries with nuclear weapons must commit to the “no first use” of them, and assure other states that they will not use –or threaten to use—nuclear weapons against them.
“We must keep the horrors of Hiroshima in view at all times, recognizing there is only one solution to the nuclear threat: not to have nuclear weapons at all”, the UN chief stated.
Guterres stressed that leaders cannot hide from their responsibilities.
“Take the nuclear option off the table — for good. It’s time to proliferate peace. Heed the message of the hibakusha: “No more Hiroshimas! No more Nagasakis!”, he said, recognizing that in 1945, two atomic bombs were detonated over the skies of Japan – first in Hiroshima on 6 August, and Nagasaki three days later, on 9 August.
Mr. Guterres also sent a message to the young people urging them to finish the work that the hibakusha have begun.
“The world must never forget what happened here. The memory of those who died — and the legacy of those who survived — will never be extinguished”, he concluded.
The UN Secretary-General will be in Japan over the weekend, where he will meet with several Japanese senior officials, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
He will also meet a group of surviving victims of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and participate in a dialogue with young activists who are leading initiatives on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and other global issues.
Later in the day, the Secretary-General met five surviving victims of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known as Hibakusha, and heard their stories.
He expressed his admiration for them, acknowledging that they have suffered enormously but have overcome trauma with ‘enormous courage and resilience’.
Mr. Guterres also called them an example for the world, and told the three women and two men reunited with him that they have the moral authority to tell leaders that ‘nuclear weapons are nonsense’
“The UN is committed to keeping the memory of what happened alive, and to make sure that your stories echo forever”, he said.
The hibakusha told the UN chief how they have remained engaged in issues of peace and disarmament for most of their lives: for example, one of them wrote a song to raise awareness and another illustrated her experiences in pictures.
They all expressed their desire that young people also understand the crude reality of nuclear weapons.
António Guterres was also part of an informal dialogue session with young Japanese activists currently leading initiatives on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and other global issues.
“I would like to apologize on behalf of my generation for the state of the world we are leaving to your generation”, he said, reiterating an apology he’s made before to the youth worldwide.
He spoke about the current state of the world, including the triple planetary crisis, the raging inequality, and widespread armed conflict.
“Our generations need to work together… and then you will assume the responsibilities, and you need to be prepared and be in very good shape”, he told the young participants.
The UN chief also met with the mayor of Hiroshima, and the deputy mayor of Nagasaki, and was granted honorary citizenship of Hiroshima.
“I accept this great honour on behalf of all the women and men of the United Nations who are working for peace around the world. I accept it on behalf of the diplomats and negotiators who — this very week — are meeting in New York to stop the spread of nuclear weapons”, he expressed.