as a partner of ICAN wins the 2017 NOBEL PEACE PRIZE

Hibakusha Stories team upon the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, UNHQ, July 7, 2017. L to R, bottom row: Robert Croonquist, Setsuko Thurlow, Kathleen Sullivan, Miyako Taguchi. L to R, top row: Alice Slater, Carolina Soto, Mitchie Takeuchi, Susan Strickler, Rachel Clark, and Reeno Hashimoto. photo © Robert Croonquist

We are ecstatic, as a proud member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), to be the recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Hibakusha Stories is one of the 468 organizations in over 100 countries and territories that shares this grass-roots prize.

As Daniel Högsta, ICAN coordinator in Geneva, wrote of our campaign, “You should be SO PROUD of the work you have done!! You have been relentless, intelligent, fun, strategic, creative . . . This incredible honour – one of the most prestigious awards that exists – goes to all of us in ICAN . . . It is abundantly clear that the strength of ICAN lies in all its partner organizations all over the world – you are beyond incredible.”

In this spirit, we would therefore like to announce, to all the hibakusha, to all the teachers, to all the schools that have participated in our programs, this NOBEL PEACE PRIZE belongs to YOU too!

Hibakusha Stories has been involved in the campaign from its inception. In 2007, our director Kathleen Sullivan was invited to Australia to take part in the ICAN inauguration and roll out as a public speaker for youth and general audiences. Part of her first work for the campaign was to write a series of disarmament education lesson plans that were featured on ICAN’s initial website.

Our central role has been to support hibakusha testimony, to emphasize the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons with the real life experiences of survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Youth Arts New York/Hibakusha Stories has brought over 100 atomic bomb survivors to more than 35,000 high school and university students. Our website serves as an educational portal, documenting hibakusha testimony, archiving our unique work in the field and providing curriculum.   The individual achievements of our team members reach out even further in film, dance, visual art, policy creation, community building and more. To our knowledge, Hibakusha Stories is the only project in the whole of the United States whose sole purpose is to highlight atomic bomb testimony through the arts, inspiring action for nuclear disarmament.

We have had the exceptional honor to support many atomic bomb survivors in sharing their stories of hope, compassion and inspiration. Among them, Setsuko Thurlow has played a vital and central role in the ICAN family. In addition to her first hand experience as a Hiroshima survivor, Setsuko provides an acute awareness of the political and historical significance of nuclear weapons, paired with an intellectual rigor that has characterized her tireless advocacy — for her entire life. Specific to the BAN treaty movement we have supported Setsuko’s participation in international gatherings and conferences and at the United Nations in Geneva and New York.

A few milestones in this regard include:

  • February 2014, Setsuko delivered a keynote address (with Yasuaki Yamashita, Nagasaki hibakusha) at the Second International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, hosted by the Government of Mexico, attended by 146 states and 120 NGOs and Civil Society organizations.

  • In March 2014, Setsuko again delivered a keynote at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. Citing the Nayarit gathering she said:

    “The Conference Chair, in his summary report… [urged] us to take action….  He declared that Nayarit is a point of no return…. As I was wiping my tears of joy in the din of the thunderous applause, I realized that the world has heard the voices of Hibakusha, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and is with us in solidarity for our urgent shared task of prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons for the sake of humanity.”

  • In November and December of 2014, Kathleen and Setsuko toured Oslo and Stockholm speaking with students and the general public. The trip culminated in Setsuko’s address as part of the opening plenary of the Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. In her speech at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna she said:

    “Hibakusha are increasingly frustrated, just as all of us here are, by the lack of tangible progress toward nuclear disarmament. This, in spite of our baring our souls with painful memories over the past 69 years to warn people about the hell on earth we experienced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  How much longer can we allow the Nuclear Weapon States to continue threatening all life on earth? At Nayarit we declared that the time has come for action to establish a legally binding framework to ban nuclear weapons. Here in Vienna let us move forward, courageously, by concretizing our vision so that we can make the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the appropriate milestone to achieve our goal: to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. Let us start this process, beginning with negotiations on a ban treaty.”

  • In May 2015, during the Review Conference of the Non Proliferation Treaty, Hibakusha Stories hosted a reception for atomic bomb survivors at the United Nations. Setsuko encouraged delegates in her speech stating:

    “We hibakusha live with unforgettable memories of that catastrophic devastation and still today are dying from the delayed effects of radiation exposure. You delegates who are here are part of the decision making body, therefore have a responsibility for the fate of the human community. It is the sincere hope of all hibakusha that the delegates to the NPT will use the next four weeks wisely and take concrete steps to eliminate this ultimate threat to all life on earth. We want you to BAN nuclear weapons NOW!”

  • In May 2016, Setsuko and Kathleen traveled to the UN in Geneva to attend the Open Ended Working Group on Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament. Setsuko encouraged delegates by saying:

    “The birth of the Humanitarian Initiative is like opening a door of hope for a new chapter of our struggle, and, for the world community, it has galvanized peoples’ energy and commitment. The Humanitarian Initiative has reframed how we think and talk about nuclear weapons and refocused our attention from the military doctrine of deterrence to the real impact of nuclear weapons, on all living beings and our environment.   We pray that this Open Ended Working Group progresses productively so that it could set the stage for negotiations on a new legally binding instrument that prohibits nuclear weapons.”

  • Later that same year in December, the UN General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution to convene a conference to “negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination.”

What extraordinary progress over a relatively short period of time, lead by our colleagues and partners around the world in the ICAN family. During this time, and just before ban treaty negotiations would commence at the UN in New York, Setsuko received the Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Prize in London for her work on nuclear disarmament.

  • Kathleen and Setsuko traveled back from a speaking tour in the UK in time to participate in the first segment of the BAN treaty negotiations. In Setsuko’s address before the delegates she said:

    “For those of you delegates, who are genuinely serious about disarmament, I want you to feel the presence of not only the future generations who will benefit from your negotiations to ban nuclear weapons, but to feel the spirit of the dead witnesses from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The memories and images of those who perished have always supported and guided me. I think this is how many survivors have kept on living — to make sure that the deaths of their loved ones were not in vain. As you proceed through this week, I hope you also feel their presence and support. Please do your job well! And know that we hibakusha have no doubt that this treaty can—and will—change the world.”

  • In July 2017, Setsuko traveled back to New York. There was not a dry eye in Conference Room 1 of the United Nations when Setsuko was given the final word before proceedings finished with the historic adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. She said:

    “To the leaders of countries across the world, I beseech you, if you love this planet, you will sign this treaty! Nuclear weapons have always been immoral. Now they are also illegal.” You can see her speech in full here.

For decades of borrowed time, non-governmental organizations worldwide have educated the public, lobbied governments and pursued strategies to warn people of the earth-destroying hazards of nuclear weapons and to build a world free of these instruments of omnicide. Hibakusha Stories’ role has been two-fold, to educate youth and the general public on the realities of nuclear weapons production, use and threat of use. We’ve also supported the voices of those who survived hell on earth with the fervent and active hope to share their experience so that others would never suffer as they did. This selfless act of courage has not only inspired thousands of young people where we have helped facilitate hibakusha testimony, but has changed the course of history through the adoption of the Nuclear Ban Treaty, inspired truly by the compassion and conviction of atomic bomb survivors; Setsuko Thurlow chief among them.

Our work continues, but it is most certainly buoyed by the Nobel Peace Prize that we share with anti-nuclear campaigners everywhere, and especially hibakusha and nuclear test survivors. Their enduring witness inspires us not only in our work for nuclear abolition, but to be better people; to be more kind and more loving as we use our energy to protect life on earth, and the future itself through the total elimination of nuclear weapons. As Setsuko said on the day the Ban treaty was adopted: “Together, let us go forth and change the world!”

Thank you for your continued support.

Elayne White Goméz, President of the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination, and Sestuko Thurlow upon the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, UNHQ, July 7, 2017 photo © Kathleen Sullivan
Setsuko Thurlow, ICAN Civil Society Forum, Vienna, Austria, December, 2014. photo © Robert Croonquist
Setsuko Thurlow and Yasuaki Yamashita, Mobilization for Peace and Planet, NYC, April, 2015. photo © Paule Saviano
Setsuko Thurlow, Newcomers High School, Long Island City, NY, December, 2011. photo © Robert Croonquist
Miyako Taguchi and Robert Croonquist with the replica of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki which they created for ICAN in recognition of nuclear weapons joining chemical and biological weapons as banned by UN treaty, NYC, July 7, 2017. photo © Robert Croonquist
Setsuko Thurlow challenging the Japanese government’s position on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, Vienna, Austria, December, 2014. photo © Robert Croonquist
Setsuko Thurlow, Japan Society, NYC, May, 2015. photo © Paule Saviano
Setsuko Thurlow, Newcomers High School, Long Island City, NY, December, 2011. photo © Robert Croonquist
Kathleen Sullivan and Setsuko Thurlow, Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, NY, November 2014. photo © Robert Croonquist
Setsuko Thurlow and a banner she takes everywhere listing the names of her classmates from Hiroshima Jogakuin High School who perished on August 6, 1945, Vienna International School, Vienna, Austria, December, 2014. photo © Robert Croonquist
Setsuko Thurlow speaking truth to power, Truman Legacy Symposium, Key West, FL, May, 2013. photo © Robert Croonquist