ASTANA – United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for greater international efforts to end nuclear weapons testing and to promote movement toward a world free from nuclear weapons.
In a special online message dedicated to the fourth annual observance of August 29, the International Day against Nuclear Tests, Ban Ki-moon urged the international community to “maintain our momentum to end nuclear weapons testing and promote the achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons.”
“The strong and unified response to the nuclear test announced in February by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea demonstrated the international community’s commitment to uphold the global norm against nuclear tests,” the UN Secretary General said.
“The Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty is a cornerstone of our work. I once again urge all states to sign and ratify the CTBT – especially the eight remaining states whose ratifications are necessary for the treaty to enter into force. At the same time, all states should maintain or implement moratoria on nuclear explosions,” Ban Ki-moon stressed.
The eight states that have not either signed or ratified the CTBT and on whose ratification its entry into force depends include China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan, and the United States of America.
“Civil society, academia and the mass media have a crucial advocacy role to play towards accomplishing these goals. Let us work together to end nuclear weapons testing around the world and build a nuclear weapons-free world for our children,” the top UN official said.
It was at Kazakhstan’s initiative that on Dec. 2, 2009, the UN General Assembly unanimously proclaimed August 29 as the International Day against Nuclear Tests. The day, which marks the anniversary of the closure of the Soviet nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk by Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1991, has now been commemorated annually for three consecutive years. At the end of this month and in early September it will again be marked by events in capitals and symbolic locations around the world, including at the United Nations in New York and in Semey, in eastern Kazakhstan, as Semipalatinsk is now called.
Last year on that day, Aug. 29, 2012, President Nazarbayev addressed a major international parliamentary conference in Astana and launched The ATOM Project as a new mechanism to generate global popular support for the permanent end to nuclear weapons testing and, ultimately, the abolition of nuclear weapons.
For four decades, against its will and without deep knowledge of what was going on, Kazakhstan, then a Soviet republic, was used as the center for the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons testing programme. From 1949 to 1991, the USSR conducted more than 450 nuclear weapons tests at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, bringing illness and death to more than 1.5 million people in the region and radioactive pollution to a huge swath of land.
The ATOM Project is an international petition campaign designed to unify global public opinion against nuclear weapons testing that tells the tragic and hopeful stories of survivors of nuclear testing from the region of Semey. The survivors and their descendants continue to suffer from illness, disease and severe deformities caused by exposure to nuclear radiation during and after the testing, which took place 100 miles outside of the city.
“We have an opportunity to once more remind the world about the tragic consequences of nuclear testing and to push the global community towards more decisive actions to achieve a final and definitive ban of such testing,” President Nazarbayev told the conference in Astana in August 2012 as he announced the ATOM Project. “Under the project any human being on Earth who stands against nuclear weapons can sign an online petition urging governments of the world to abandon nuclear tests forever and ensure early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Ban Treaty. I urge the participants of the conference and all people of good will to support The ATOM Project and make the creation of the non-nuclear world our main goal.”
Since its launch last year, The ATOM Project has held conferences, exhibits and round tables across Kazakhstan and in such international venues as the Hague, the Basel Peace Office and the UN Office in Geneva, and Washington, DC’s Carnegie Institution last year. The ATOM Project also participated in a major international conference organized by the Norwegian government in Oslo in March 2013. Already, more than 70,000 people from more than 100 countries have signed the petition at The ATOM Project’s website as well as in print form during public rallies across Kazakhstan.
This year, the ATOM Project will seek to expand its efforts and reach out to more people both within Kazakhstan and internationally, Karipbek Kuyukov, the project’s honorary ambassador said.
“Indeed, one of the world’s largest test sites at Semipalatinsk is shut down but others are just dormant. Moreover, there are new countries which are interested in acquiring nuclear weapons,” Kuyukov, the second generation victim of nuclear weapons testing and the famous armless artist, noted.
“The world is facing new global and regional security challenges, but nuclear weapons continue to remain the most serious threat to the mankind,” he added. “Anti-nuclear weapons activists in Kazakhstan, supported and led by the country’s president, are doing what they can to stop this arms race.”
“It is important that every person on our planet recognizes their responsibility for preserving life on Earth and ensuring sustainable development without the damage to future generations,” Kuyukov stressed. “The people of the world and the heads of state should remember what global calamities can be brought by unbridled nuclear power!”