As talks on a possible ban on nuclear weapons began Monday at the United Nations, around 25 people held a vigil across from the General Assembly building urging participating member states to forge a treaty.
Participants shouted slogans and held banners as more than 120 countries began the first of five planned days of negotiations. The talks hold more significance given the recent nuclear missile testing by North Korea — a move that was met with widespread condemnation from around the world.
Turnout for the vigil, organized by the New York chapter of the War Resisters League, was smaller than expected due to the rain, but no less enthusiastic.. “Nuclear weapons should be abolished,” said Maureen Shea in an interview. “We are very opposed to the idea of using resources of one country to attack another.”
Along with slogans of “Disarm Now” and “No Nukes Begin With US,” protestors sang a slightly distorted version of popular folk song “This Land is Your Land”— incorporating their messages into the lyrics of the song. It also included a photo exhibition commemorating the 14th anniversary of the Iraq War.
“It is really upsetting to see proliferation of nuclear bombs,” said Eleanor Preiss, one of the organizers of the photo exhibition, who was holding up a banner that read “Think Outside the Bomb.” She added, “it is a technology that will not help anyone in any way.”
Despite calls for elimination of nuclear weapons, several important players in the issue are against a complete ban. Prominent U.N. Security Council members like the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France and Canada are not part of the negotiation talks despite their obligation to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The treaty, signed in 1970, requires signatories to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to promote peaceful use of nuclear weapons. The current talks would enact a total boycott of nuclear weapons.
Despite facing criticism for boycotting the talks, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley defended the decision. “There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons,” Haley said, speaking outside the U.N. as the vigil was underway. ”But we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?”
Responding to Haley’s remarks, protestors reiterated the need for U.S. to support the ban on weapons. Many said that U.S. influence on other countries could be a turning point in the formation of a treaty to outlaw weapons.
“Hopefully, we will develop enough publicity and momentum to embarrass the nations that are against the ban,” said Charlotte Phillips of Brooklyn for Peace, a group that works to eliminate war and other social injustices.
The vigil coincided not only with the nuclear talks but also with the release of a report to the U.N.’s Security Council by the Netherlands-based Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.. Thousands of people have been killed in Syria alone because of the use of chemical weapons.
“I feel like it is my fault when someone gets killed in some other part of the world,” said Shea. “Because I am part of the group that elects the government that makes these decisions and the only way to stop is to take responsibility.”