On 20 October 2014, Ban All Nukes generation (BANg), with the cooperation of the the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and Peace Boat, convened a side event entitled Towards Vienna: The Role of Education to Further Advance the Discussion on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. The speakers were Ms. Caroline Woergoetter, Disarmament Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Austria to the Conference on Disarmament; Mr. John Ennis, ‎Chief of Information and Outreach at the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs; and Mr. Akira Kawasaki, Executive Committee Member of Peace Boat. Mr. Christian N. Ciobanu, the US Coordinator of BANg, moderated the event.

Expressing the vital importance of establishing a world free of nuclear weapons, Mr. Christian N. Ciobanu opened the event by discussing the need for the international community to educate and teach young people about the significant dangers of nuclear weapons. He conveyed his disappointment that education is often undermined and underexplored within the high-level discussions on international peace and security. For instance, there is a limited number of submissions by states to the biennial reports of the UN Secretary-General’s report (A/57/124). There is also a lack of progress towards implementing the recommendations set forth in the United Nations study on disarmament and non-proliferation education. Nevertheless, the organizers of the event firmly believe that education can serve as a driving force to advance discussions on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

He also stated that the panel and subsequent discussion should address the following:

  1. What are the lessons learned from educational initiatives and efforts within the context of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons?
  2. What can we accomplish at the Vienna Conference in the context of education?
  3. How can we achieve those objectives?

As the first panelist, Ms. Caroline Woergoetter, Disarmament Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Austria to the Conference on Disarmament, underscored the significance of education within the context of nuclear weapons. Specifically, she drew upon the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation, a joint collaborative centre between the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the Federal Ministry of Europe, Integration, and Foreign Affairs’ key recommendations on education as outlined in its report and international workshop on disarmament and non-proliferation education and capacity development.

She further provided a general overview about the Third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, which will be in Vienna, Austria. She noted that, building upon the previous conferences in Oslo and Nayarit respectively, the upcoming conference aims to provide a greater awareness and knowledge about the impact of nuclear weapons. In addition, she elaborated that the conference will explore risks factors, norms, international law, and international humanitarian law. She further underscored the importance of including members of civil society and young people in the discussions.

Following Ms. Woergoetter’s discussion, Mr. John Ennis, Chief of Information and Outreach of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, illustrated UNODA’s efforts in promoting nuclear disarmament educations. Some of UNODA’s noteworthy projects featured the hibaksusha, survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He also described several public projects, such as the 2011 Poetry for Peace and the 2012 Art for Peace, which provided opportunities for a wider audience to share their views on the need to abolish nuclear weapons.

The final panelist, Mr. Akira Kawasaki, the Executive Committee Member of Peace Boat, touched upon civil society’s perspectives on the role of education to advance the discussions on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. He concentrated his discussions on Peace Boat’s work on connecting the hibakusha’s stories with the stories from survivors of other atrocities in order for them to engage in discussions with one another. He further underscored that, due to the advance ages of the hibakusha, it is vital to educate young people about the testimonies of the hibakusha and the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons.

Notably, Peace Boat’s projects include: training youth communicators, who share the testimonies of the hibakusha with the public, and “I was her Age,” a new project with Mayors for Peace, which would connect the hibakusha with specific age groups of youth. He further declared that education must be connected to advocacy to generate political will.

In terms of Vienna, Mr. Kawasaki remarked about the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)’s civil society forum and the civil society’s marketplace. At the marketplace, members of civil society will have opportunities to discuss their views with another one.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Mr. Ciobanu invited remarks from the audience. A granddaughter of a hibakusha, described the importance of second and third generation hibakusha to help raise awareness about the need to eliminate nuclear weapons. In addition, audience members shared their views about the significance of forming linkages between issues to help the public understand and actively contribute to the discussions on nuclear weapons. For instance, the recent People’s March for Climate Change highlighted not only the significant interest of the public in climate issues, but also the linkage between the environmental protection movement and nuclear disarmament movement.

Members of the audience members pointed out that in order to involve the youth, we need to involve the media and popular culture items, such as comic books. In addition, to meaningfully engage with the public, one must be aware on whether the citizens are living in a nuclear-armed state or a non-nuclear weapon state.

Finally, the panelists acknowledged that civil society is helping to advance the linkages between education and the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapon in order to educate young people.