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Despite US boycott, UN group forges ahead with proposals to eliminate nuclear weapons

Posted by Ira Helfand, MD , reporting from Geneva on May 2, 2016

The Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) established by the UN to discuss next legal steps to eliminate nuclear weapons opened this morning with some 100 nations gathered for the meeting. Unfortunately, the US and all other nuclear weapons states are boycotting this critical meeting.

Over the weekend, over 130 nuclear weapons ban supporters—including representatives of PSR and IPPNW-- gathered for a civil society Campaign Meeting sponsored by International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

At this morning's opening session, Austria, Brazil, Costa Rica, Kenya, Mexico, South Africa, Egypt and the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent societies gave strong statements in support of a new treaty banning nuclear weapons. The Red Cross/Red Crescent in particular cited the growing danger of nuclear war and the horrific humanitarian consequences of nuclear war, which would overwhelm the resources of the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, and all other humanitarian organizations.

On the other side a group of NATO states including Belgium, Germany, Poland, Italy and Spain lined up to support the US government position that a treaty banning nuclear weapons will undermine their security. Their call for a continuation of what they called a "progressive approach" to disarmament was strongly rejected by Brazil, which pointed out that it is the abject failure of this approach over the last 20 years that has led to the current demand from non-nuclear states for a new treaty banning nuclear weapons.

Four international federations representing over 15 million health professionals told the OEWG—in a joint statement— that the medical and scientific evidence about the consequences of nuclear weapons requires urgent action to prohibit and eliminate them as "the only course of action commensurate with the existential danger they pose." Read more here about their joint statement, "The health and humanitarian case for banning and eliminating nuclear weapons." The four federations are International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), the World Medical Association (WMA), the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA), and the International Council of Nurses (ICN).

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