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Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Year-End Message from Yuki Tanaka (English Version)

Here is a year-end message from Yuki Tanaka, Professor of Hiroshima Peace Institute. The Japanese version is here. 広島市立大平和研究所 田中利幸先生からの年末メッセージですー2009年の総括です。日本語版はこちらです。

2009 End of Year Message
Yuki Tanaka

On May 8 this year, a village called Granai in Farah Province of Afghanistan received heavy air-strikes by U.S. forces. The U.S. claimed that the attack was aimed at Taliban insurgents who were hiding in this village. According to a New York Times report on May 15, “The bombs were so powerful that people were ripped to shreds. Survivors said they collected only pieces of bodies. Several villagers said that they could not distinguish all of the dead and that they never found some of their relatives.” However, the victims of this aerial bombing were not Taliban fighters but civilians. The Afghan government said that 140 civilians were killed and 25 wounded, and that 12 houses were destroyed. According to the above-mentioned report, “An independent Afghan organization, Afghanistan Rights Monitor, said on Wednesday that at least 117 civilians were killed ― including 26 women and 61 children ― drawing on interviews with 21 villagers and relatives of the dead. The group criticized both the Taliban for fighting among civilians, and the United States military for using excessive force.” Amongst the more than 10,000 people at a refugee camp near Kabul there are many people who lost their relatives and friends through similar bombings conducted by the U.S. forces, many of which are now carried out using remote-controlled predator drones.

In his recent Nobel Peace Prize speech, the U.S. President, Barack Obama, said: “security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.” I agree entirely with this view.

On December 27 last year, Israeli forces stared dropping bombs on Gaza and continued their attack on civilians for the following 22 days. Many of the victims of this indiscriminate attack were also children. A recent Guardian report says: “Some children no longer look on their homes as a place of safety, security and comfort. Others don’t even have a home to go to. The Israeli bombardment damaged or destroyed more than 20,000 houses, forcing some families into tents and others into crowding in with relatives.”

In early November this year the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of the resolution endorsing the Goldstone report, an UN-sponsored report into war crimes committed during Israel’s war on Gaza. The report accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes. However, most of the criticism in the Goldstone report was directed towards Israel’s conduct during the offensive, in which human rights organizations say about 1,400 Palestinians - many of them women and children - were killed. (Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, were killed over the course of the war.) This report was endorsed by the assembly by a margin of 114 to 18.

In the above mentioned Nobel Peace Prize speech Obama also said: “we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.” Yet, his government voted against the U.N. resolution, supporting the Israeli government. Unashamedly, the Japanese government abstained.

Thanks to Obama’s efforts, the world situation concerning the popular demand for the abolition of nuclear weapons has changed considerably – for the better – over the last year or so, although the danger of the proliferation of nuclear weapons is actually increasing. Yet, in listening to Obama’s speeches, I find the contradiction between the repetition of a rhetorical and eloquent emphasis on human rights and human dignity and the actual policies that he has so far implemented extremely ironic.

Although I sincerely hope that Obama will narrow the gap between his flowery words and damaging actions in the coming new year, it is my strong belief that it will not be the acts of politicians but our persistent grass-roots daily efforts, which certainly effect the actions of politicians, that will ultimately bring a real change to our world.

As far as the issue of abolishing nuclear weapons is concerned, there are a number of NGOs, such as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), who are working hard to establish a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention by providing model conventions. As the world push for the abolition of nuclear weapons is now heightened, we, the citizens of Hiroshima, feel it is time to take effective action and enact an international convention. For this purpose we strongly support movements such as those of the ICAN and IALANA.

However, I believe that, as a step towards the establishment of such a convention, one of the existing international conventions should be fully utilized to quickly criminalize the use of nuclear weapons and other radioactive weapons such as depleted uranium (DU) weapons. In particular, I believe that Chapters II and III of Part IV, Section I “Civilian Population” of the “Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, Signed on 12 December 1977” are extremely useful for this purpose. It is crystal clear that the use of nuclear and DU weapons are a violation of Article 51 (Protection of the civilian population) and Article 55 (Protection of the natural environment) of this Additional Protocol. (Please see the attached copy of the Articles 51 and 55.)

In actual fact, during the process of drafting this Protocol, countries such as Romania, Yugoslavia and North Korea strongly suggested that there should be a provision to name the specific types of weapons of mass destruction to be banned, e.g.: nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. However, due to political pressures from nuclear powers, in particular the U.S., Britain and France, proposals to include such a provision were eventually rejected. The United States declared that ‘nuclear weapons were the subject of separate negotiations and agreements,’ and that ‘the rules established by this protocol were not intended to have any effects on and do not regulate or prohibit the use of nuclear weapons.’ Britain also issued the similar statement and made sure that their policy would not be affected by this Protocol.

It is immediately obvious, on reading the 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions, that the use of nuclear weapons unquestionably contravenes this Protocol. However, because of the above-mentioned destructive attitude of nuclear powers, we need to include a provision which clarifies the criminality of the use of nuclear, radioactive, chemical and biological weapons as well as all weapons of mass destruction. Thus I would like to propose the addition of a straightforward and simple provision to the Protocol which would make the ban of the use of nuclear weapons a positive international law. It is an extremely simple formula and would therefore not require comprehensive discussion to draft the text of regulation. It only requires the political will of the majority of the nations in the world for it to become possible. Once we succeed in criminalizing the use of nuclear weapons by introducing a simple, new provision, we can start working to draft a separate and more comprehensive nuclear weapons convention, including provisions to ban the production and testing of nuclear weapons.

It is expected that nuclear powers such as the U.S. and Russia will not agree to such a scheme and will refuse to ratify it even if it is endorsed by many other nations. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that once a ban on the use of nuclear weapons becomes a positive international law, it will also serve to regulate the conduct of non-signatory nations.

I feel that the upcoming NPT Review Conference in New York in May next year will be a great opportunity to strengthen the rising popular call for the abolition of nuclear weapons and to make realistic proposals for criminalizing the use of nuclear weapons. To this end, together with the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolishment (HANWA) – the largest nonpartisan anti-nuclear organization in Hiroshima, which includes many A-bomb survivors among its members – I am planning to start campaigning to propose the above mentioned scheme to criminalize the use of nuclear weapons using the 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions.

Your comments and ideas would be most appreciated.

Best wishes for a peaceful end of year and a happy 2010.

The Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, Signed on 12 December 1977

Art 51. - Protection of the civilian population

1. The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations. To give effect to this protection, the following rules, which are additional to other applicable rules of international law, shall be observed in all circumstances.

2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.

3. Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.

4. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:
(a) those which are not directed at a specific military objective;
(b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or
(c) those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol;

and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.

5. Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate:

(a) an attack by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects;

(b) an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

Art 55. Protection of the natural environment

1. Care shall be taken in warfare to protect the natural environment against widespread, long-term and severe damage. This protection includes a prohibition of the use of methods or means of warfare which are intended or may be expected to cause such damage to the natural environment and thereby to prejudice the health or survival of the population.

2. Attacks against the natural environment by way of reprisals are prohibited.

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