NEW YORK — Japanese atomic bomb survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Friday presented a petition with nearly three million signatures to U.N. officials as a conference is under way to negotiate the world’s first nuclear weapons ban treaty.
Toshiyuki Mimaki, 75, and Masako Wada, 73 — survivors, respectively, of the Hiroshima bomb on Aug. 6, 1945 and the Nagasaki bombing three days later — handed over the signatures and accompanying letter to Costa Rican Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez.
Gomez is currently chairing the three-week U.N. conference that began Thursday.
Known as hibakusha in Japanese, a group of atomic bomb survivors living in Japan and abroad began a campaign last spring to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Japan Confederation of A-and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, which is called Nihon Hidankyo.
“We collected about three million signatures,” Wada, Hidankyo’s assistant secretary general, told the chairwoman as she presented her a red paper crane made by her elderly relative. “She encouraged us to collect more and more signatures. We are trying.”
Called the “appeal of the hibakusha,” the grassroots movement garnered significant support, but aims to gather hundreds of millions of signatures by 2020 so that the survivors — whose numbers are dwindling — will see the destructive devices banned in their lifetimes, which is a common dream they share.
Mimaki, who shed tears during the encounter with Gomez, personally invited her to Hiroshima as Izumi Nakamitsu, the newly appointed undersecretary general and high representative for disarmament affairs, stood beside her.
“It absolutely inspires me to work harder, but also to remember this is not something that we are doing because it’s an intellectual process,” Gomez told Kyodo News after meeting with the survivors. “This is a human process, and we need to do it because it touches the life of people.”
The Costa Rican ambassador, who is based in Geneva, had previously visited Nagasaki, where last April she went to the museum and memorial, as well as met with atomic bomb survivors and with the city’s mayor.
In describing Friday’s encounter, which she called an “emotional one,” Gomez also recalled her travels to Nagasaki and said that the experience “touched me very deeply” and “increased my commitment to the work that we are undertaking.”
“We call on the conference to adopt the convention on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, thereby to mark a historic step forward for prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons,” the letter addressed to Gomez, Nakamitsu and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said.
“International conflicts and heightened tensions cited by nuclear armed states and their allies as reasons for their opposition to the convention should instead be reasons for promoting the prohibition of nuclear weapons.”
Just as in the previous round, the major nuclear-armed states — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — are not taking part in the latest session, nor are Japan, Germany or South Korea, which rely on U.S. nuclear deterrence for protection.
The handover of signatures was also positively noted by other participants from the nongovernmental organization community who believe in the importance of the strong show of support.
“The voices of the public conscience and survivors and victims of weapons are supposed to play a crucial role in how we deal with them, so the voices of hibakusha and survivors of nuclear weapons use testing and production should be at the core of what we are doing here,” said Matthew Bolton, director of the International Disarmament Institution at Pace University.
“This should be a humane and humanitarian and human rights driven process and so it is really encouraging that people are speaking out and the conference is receiving their petition.”
The conference concludes on July 7 with the aim of producing the landmark treaty. On the conference’s second day, the delegates continued to go through the draft text paragraph by paragraph with the goal of working toward a revised draft that is to be circulated next week.