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Postcard from Hiroshima

Red Cross CEO Robert Tickner reports from the historic Red Cross Red Crescent meeting in Hiroshima this week.

Friday May 17, 2013

Board member John MacLennan, President Michael Legge, Dr Helen Durham and CEO Robert Tickner.

This postcard from Hiroshima is to let you know about this amazing and uplifting meeting of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement which is currently happening in this iconic and deeply moving Japanese city.

I am here with Australian Red Cross President Michael Legge, Dr Helen Durham and Board member John MacLennan. Also here is Greg Vickery who as you know is the former President of Australian Red Cross who now heads up the Standing Commission of the Movement.

The meeting is convened by the ICRC and a small number of national societies including Australia but attended by a wide ranging and diverse group of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies - ranging from American Red Cross, Azerbaijan and Malaysian Red Crescent Societies, Norwegian and Swedish Red Cross to Megan David Adom from Israel, Jamaican Red Cross and German Red Cross as examples.

Bringing the historic resolution to life

The purpose of the meeting is to develop a plan of action to give effect to the historic resolution of the International Red Cross Movement which was passed in 2011 at the Council of Delegates which called on the governments of the world to "pursue in good faith and conclude with some urgency and determination negotiations to prohibit the use of and completely eliminate nuclear weapons through a legally binding international agreement, based on existing commitments and international obligations". We will also be preparing a draft follow up resolution for the Council of Delegates to be held in Sydney later this year.

The 2011 resolution only happened because Australian Red Cross worked with key other national societies such as Norwegian and Japanese Red Cross and the ICRC to win support for the critical further intervention of Red Cross in this significant humanitarian concern of the people of the world.

The decision taken in 2011 has had a huge influence in the global debate on nuclear weapons where progress by governments has sadly been painfully slow. We are pleased that in Australia there has been cross party support for the resolution but we are watching the performance of all the major parties very closely to ensure that they remain behind our work in this area.

Very significantly the decision in 2011 helped inspire 127 governments to come together in Oslo earlier this year in what was the first ever (yes the very first) conference of governments to discuss the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. A further global meeting of governments will be convened by the Government of Mexico early next year to take the issues further and we want the Australian Government to come in solidly behind that meeting.

Visiting the epicentre of the bomb

Yesterday was the first day of the meeting here in Hiroshima and we started with a visit near to the site of the epicentre of the bomb which is now one of the most moving places on the planet. In my life's work I have been to many places of great human tragedy and where the humanitarian violations were a blot on human history but a visit to this peace park and museum often transforms the lives of those who come here as it did mine and I am sure others in our group.

It is not a place of devastation now but which is testimony to the power of the human spirit and humanitarian ideals. Thousands of international visitors come each day to see and to listen to the stories of Hiroshima which are told in the profound hope that there will be no more Hiroshimas. In the peace park thousands of beautiful Japanese school children also come each day and mingle wonderfully with the international visitors and their own people. It is truly a magical place both of great sadness and profoundly inspirational.

We also heard from Mr Keijiro Matsushima, one of the survivors of Hiroshima, who was a 14-year-old boy at the time of the bombing and described the first moments after the blast and the way in which an entire city of living breathing human beings was destroyed in the blink of an eye.

He spoke movingly of the carnage and of the "ghosts" who managed to survive a couple of kilometres away from the blast who he saw walking away as shells of people with skin and bones exposed and burnt horrifically. They did not survive long of course. Mr Matsushima also inspired us with his forgiveness and willingness to work with the American people and all other people of good will in the world from all nations, religions and cultures to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

One of our group said yesterday that as Red Cross people it is not just enough that we have a love of humanity which is all important but that we also have to ensure that this love of humanity inspires us to have the courage to do something about it.

And so it is with nuclear weapons and the contribution which our Movement can make to the world if we have the courage to lead according to our principles and they are the very same principles which inspired Henri Dunant in 1869 - namely that civilians should be protected from conflict and from violations of international law which threaten their lives.

International recognition of the Movement's work

Following our visit to the Peace Park the meeting opened with speeches from the President of the Federation (IFRC) Mr Tadateru Konoé, the Mayor of Hiroshima Mr Kazumi Matsui, former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Sergo Duarte and Chair of the Standing Commission, Greg Vickery.

I was asked to Chair the first session which looked at the global context of the current debate. Speakers were Mr Duarte and also Peter Herby who had represented the ICRC on arms related negotiations since 1994 and has recently taken up a position in Norwegian Red Cross.

It was quite remarkable to hear the Ambassador so strongly welcome the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement engagement with the nuclear weapons issue which he said had contributed to "new energy, new impetus, new constituencies and new ideas". Ambassador Duarte is a veteran of disarmament negotiations and processes over many decades and it was wonderful to hear his backing for the contribution of our work.

From reflections to action

The next session of the meeting was chaired by Helen Durham and gave those attending an opportunity to reflect on the deeply moving visit to the museum and peace park which I have already referred to. There is always a risk with a session like this that people could remain silent and not participate or become sentimental or self indulgent but the session was none of this. Helen got people to soulfully reflect on the day and the contributions of people were deeply authentic and moving.

It bonded the group and gave us the common purpose we need to take us forward today to work on the Plan of Action as well as a draft resolution for the Council of Delegates in Sydney in November. We need to develop to truly motivate and inspire the people of the world to convince Governments to support an international agreement to eliminate and render the use of nuclear weapons illegal under international law.