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ICAN accepts Nobel prize, vows to usher world toward “freedom from fear”

ICAN accepts Nobel prize, vows to usher world toward “freedom from fear”

Oslo City Hall hosts the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony on 10 December 2017. The prize in 2017 goes to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Photo: Albin Hillert/World Council of Churches

10 December 2017

In an historic ceremony on 10 December at Oslo City Hall in Norway, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) accepted the Nobel Peace Prize and urged the world to continue its work toward an unequivocal norm against nuclear weapons.

The ceremony - held on National Human Rights Day - featured a procession of the prizewinners accompanied by members of the Nobel Committee and the Royal Family of Norway.

Norway's Nobel Committee president Berit Reiss-Andersen explained why ICAN received the prize. “ICAN is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons,” she said. “ICAN’s efforts have given new momentum to the process of abolishing nuclear weapons.”

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize follows in a tradition of awards that have honored efforts against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and for nuclear disarmament, Reiss-Andersen noted. Twelve peace prizes have been awarded in whole or in part for this type of peace work, the first in 1959 and the most recent - before ICAN’s recognition - in 2009.

‘Ridding the world of this terrible threat’

ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn accepted the prize on behalf of “thousands of inspirational people” who make up the campaign. “Together we have brought democracy to disarmament and are reshaping international law,” she said, and “we thank all who are committed to ridding the world of this terrible threat.”

“At dozens of locations around the world - in missile silos buried in our earth, on submarines navigating through our oceans, and aboard planes flying high in our sky - lie 15,000 objects of humankind's destruction,” said Fihn in her acceptance speech. “Perhaps it is the enormity of this fact, perhaps it is the unimaginable scale of the consequences, that leads many to simply accept this grim reality.”

In fact, a world without nuclear weapons represents the only rational choice, said Fihn. “We represent those who refuse to accept nuclear weapons as a fixture in our world, those who refuse to have their fates bound up in a few lines of launch code,” she said. “Ours is the only reality that is possible. The alternative is unthinkable. The story of nuclear weapons will have an ending, and it is up to us what that ending will be. Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?”

Fihn spoke of fear, freedom, and the future. “By the very admission of those who possess them, the real utility of nuclear weapons is in their ability to provoke fear,” she reflected.

Now, she continued, it is time to reclaim the freedom to not live our lives as hostages to imminent annihilation. “Man - not woman! - made nuclear weapons to control others, but instead we are controlled by them,” she said. “They made us false promises. That by making the consequences of using these weapons so unthinkable it would make any conflict unpalatable. That it would keep us free from war.”

And in this century, these weapons continue to escalate us towards war and conflict, she added.

Regarding the future, she said, there are “hundreds of organisations that together as ICAN are making great strides.”

She thanked the millions of people across the globe who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those campaigners to show hundreds of millions more that a different future is truly possible.

“Those who say that future is not possible need to get out of the way of those making it a reality,” she said. “As the culmination of this grassroots effort, through the action of ordinary people, this year the hypothetical marched forward towards the actual as 122 nations negotiated and concluded a UN treaty to outlaw these weapons of mass destruction.”

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons provides the pathway forward at a moment of great global crisis, she concluded: “It is a light in a dark time.”

Hibakusha share commitment to hope

Reiss-Andersen, speaking on behalf of Norway’s Nobel Committee, introduced Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor, or “hibakusha,” of the bombing of Hiroshima.

“On two days in August 1945, the world experienced the terrible destructive force of nuclear weapons for the first time,” said Reiss-Andersen. “The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki instantly killed at least 140,000 people, the vast majority of whom were civilians.”

Thurlow experienced the bombing when she was 13 years old. Now 85, she is active in ICAN, sharing the stage with Fihn at the Nobel award ceremony.

“I speak as a member of the family of hibakusha - those of us who, by some miraculous chance, survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” said Thurlow. “For more than seven decades, we have worked for the total abolition of nuclear weapons. We have stood in solidarity with those harmed by the production and testing of these horrific weapons around the world.”

After sharing her own story of survival, and the horrifying suffering of her family and her city, Thurlow reflected that the development of nuclear weapons signifies not a country's elevation to greatness, but “its descent to the darkest depths of depravity.”

Nuclear weapons are not a necessary evil, she said: they are the ultimate evil.

“On the seventh of July this year, I was overwhelmed with joy when a great majority of the world's nations voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” she said. “Having witnessed humanity at its worst, I witnessed, that day, humanity at its best. We hibakusha had been waiting for the ban for seventy-two years. Let this be the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.”

The World Council of Churches is among ICAN’s partners across the world

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to ICAN is “a sign of hope and encouragement on the path to peace”, said WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.

The WCC 2014 “Statement towards a Nuclear-free World” says that nuclear weapons cannot indeed be reconciled with real peace. “They inflict unspeakable suffering with blast, heat and radiation,” the statement reads. “As long as nuclear weapons exist, they pose a threat to humanity.”

Tveit said “For the WCC, this is a major landmark on the long path since the 1983 WCC Assembly denounced the production, deployment and use of nuclear weapons as a crime against humanity. Our moral imperative against nuclear weapons is clear and categorical. We can all urge our governments to sign and ratify the treaty and then to see that it is implemented.”

Tveit added in this critical times “In the context of the Korean peninsula, the threat of nuclear conflict jeopardizes the lives and future not only of the people of the peninsula but of the wider region and the globe.”

“The World Council of Churches reaffirms its commitment to advance the campaign for the abolition and elimination of nuclear weapons, and to encouraging and supporting churches across the world in their work for sustainable peace and justice in a world without nuclear weapons,” said Tveit.

Tveit concluded "To make peace is holy work. We are encouraged by the Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN. We need words that can make the world accountable to our call to make peace."

Nobel winners plan next steps for banning nuclear weapons (WCC news release of 10 December 2017)

Peacemaking “a great and compelling life task” (WCC news release of 9 December 2017)

WCC work on nuclear arms control

Blog post: A witness for peace with ICAN Nobel Prize

Free high resolution photos of the Nobel Prize weekend in Oslo

The Nobel Peace Prize (Speeches, livestreaming)


Media contacts:
Please contact WCC director of communication Marianne Ejdersten: mej@wcc-coe.org, +41 79 507 63 63

Norwegian media contact: Church of Norway director of communication Ingeborg Dybvig: id933@kirken.no, +47 474 81 606