2004 World Conference against A & H Bombs

International Meeting, August 2
2004 World Conference against A & H Bombs

Judge Christopher G. Weeramantory
President, International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms
Former Vice-President, International Court of Justice


Mr. Chairman, members of the organizing committee of the 2004 World Conference, mayors, national group representatives, peace movement representatives, nuclear bomb victims and all citizens of goodwill,

We are all assembled here because we are anxious to end this nuclear menace that hangs over the world. Let me tell you what an honor and privilege it is to be able to speak to you this afternoon at the commencement of this very important session. Now, as we all know, we are seeking to remember and reflect on one of the most terrible, destructive and frightening moments in the entire history of mankind. It was a moment symbolic of the destructive power which human beings can achieve, and the lack of restraint on the use of this power. That moment symbolized the lack of restraint of any sort on power that could result in cruelty of enormous proportions. No restraints whether moral or legal, or cultural, or religious, no restraints of compassion, no social restraints or humanitarian or international restraints were able to hold back the infliction of this terrible damage on humanity. And there was, therefore, a tremendous warning signal to all of humanity for the rest of time: gPut your house in order, because if humanity does not destroy this weapon this weapon will destroy humanity.h

This was also a warning sign that old ways of handling disputes or handling peace and war had failed, and that a new principle had to be evolved of international management, which was adequate to do duty in this enormously altered situation. It was a warning sign also that the future of humanity, of human civilization, of the eco-system, of all the values that we hold dear--that all of these were in peril. It was a warning sign also that these things cannot be left to the Presidents, and Prime Ministers and Diplomats and Generals, but that the people of the world must assert themselves and take things into their hands and that they must manifest their will in a way which the rulers of the world can feel and understand. Until they do that, nothing will be achieved.

It was a warning sign also that an intense educational program needed to be launched on a variety of aspects which are totally neglected whether in the school curricula or in public discussions. Our obligations as human being to each other, each countryfs obligations to its neighbors, the power of human destructiveness, the peaceful resolution of disputes, our global interdependence as common fellow citizens on this one planet earth which we must share -- all of these need to be the subject of general education throughout the world, at all levels of society from the schoolroom upwards. That is the challenge that we must all rise to. That is the sort of education we have failed to impart to previous generations. The bombs have taught us the lesson to try our best to do so in the future.

When I was on the International Court of Justice at The Hague hearing the request of the General Assembly for an Advisory Opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons, one of the principal arguments addressed to us was this: gWhere in international law is the principle so stated? What authority recognized by international law states that you cannot use nuclear weapons?h Now that loses sight of one of the most fundamental bases of international law namely, customary international law. The customs and traditions of the world are the source out of which the moral principles evolved, which give you the bedrock of international law. Now these moral principles are available in every culture that you can look at. Look across the world, at all the continents, look at all the religions, all the teachings and all the traditions, and the solid foundations are there on which these principles can be built. Extreme cruelty, weapons which impose unnecessary suffering, weapons which do not discriminate between combatants and civilians, destruction of the environment - all these are prohibited by every major world tradition. Yet we do not build upon this, because we take a narrow, black letter view of law. Law must grow out up these common traditions of the entire human community. It must not be restricted to narrow legalistic formulations, which ignore all the worldfs ethical and moral traditions on which all humanitarian law is based.

I dissented very strongly with that part of the Opinion of the International Court of Justice, which left open the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons in circumstances of extreme self defense where the very survival of a country is at stake. I disagreed totally with that. I said nuclear weapons are illegal in all circumstances whatsoever and I am glad to see that though it was a Dissenting Opinion it is now generally accepted as correctly stating the law on this matter.

Yet the Opinion of the Court was also significant because every judge of the court without a single exception held that there was an obligation lying upon all states of the world to take meaningful steps to bring to a successful conclusion the elimination of nuclear weapons and their subjection to international control. Now, that is not being done. And I am glad to see that Malaysia every year is introducing into the General Assembly a Model Nuclear Convention to remind the members of the Assembly of that obligation.

There is also Resolution 1540 which was adopted on 20th April this year by the Security Council, requiring all states to take steps to prevent non state actors from getting nuclear weapons with their hands and from acquiring and developing nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and biological weapons. But there is also a part of that Resolution, which says that it is the obligation of all nations to prevent proliferation. Now proliferation can be a horizontal proliferation where more and more people get nuclear weapons into their hands. But it can also be vertical proliferation where those who have already nuclear weapons are trying to refine them and improve them and develop new weapons. So that Security Council Resolutions can also be used in the campaign against nuclear weapons.

There is also the Abolition Now campaign, which has global citizenship support and has called individuals, citizen groups, education authorities and local governments to rise to the challenge. They have proclaimed August 6th 2004 to August 5th 2005 as a Year of Remembrance for the Nuclear Free World.

There are thus various steps being taken presently which can help in achieving our objective of abolishing nuclear weapons. But the main effort must still come from global public opinion. All people of the world must unite to generate this. To this end let us see that leadership will go out from here, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the victims of this terrible manmade disaster. A message should go out to all the peoples of the world that we do not want this ever to happen again. Let us use our experience and our determination and give leadership in building a solid body of opinion of citizens throughout the world, without which we cannot achieve our objective.

Our objective is a world free of nuclear weapons. That can be achieved. It cannot be achieved without effort and leadership. That effort and leadership can proceed from this place as it readies itself to remind the world that the 60th anniversary is approaching of the use of the most devastating and destructive weapon that humans have ever devised for the destruction of human beings, of human values, of human civilization and of all life itself.

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