The date anticipated by anti-nuclear activists from all over the globe for the past four years finally arrived — Friday 22nd January 2021, when the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) came into force. Public displays of celebration were limited by Covid-19 rules (our own Peace Table, for instance), but, despite restrictions, there were many ingenious celebratory events. You can see some of them at http://singlouderthanguns.com/nuclear-ban-treaty-songs/. The ICAN Can-Can is particularly uplifting.
This extract from Rebecca Johnson’s article in the current CND Campaign magazine reminds us of how far we’ve come:
Eliminating nuclear weapons was the first UN resolution in 1946, as the world mourned the millions killed in previous wars. ‘Ban the Bomb’ we demanded when the Aldermaston marches started in the 1950s; when we joined with Japanese Hibakusha and indigenous people to halt nuclear weapons and testing in the 1960s; mobilised against more wars and corruption in the 1970s; and disrupted nuclear bases to stop NATO and Soviet deployments in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the Cold War ended, and thousands of nuclear weapons were scrapped. Then, as military and climate destruction shadowed the new millennium, we — the peoples of the world — renewed our humanitarian disarmament campaigning to achieve this global nuclear ban. On 7 July 2017, a ground-breaking process of multilateral negotiations delivered the TPNW to the UN General Assembly, where it was adopted immediately by 122 governments. Standing outside with the United States and France, UK representatives were instructed to dismiss the treaty and vow never to sign. This shameful decision needs to be reversed.
Rebecca Johnson is CND Vice-President, and her report ‘Nuclear Weapons are Banned: What does this mean for Britain?’ will be published soon, but you can access it on-line now at https://www.cnduk.org/nuclear-weapons-are-banned-what-does-this-mean-for-britain
How do we create a safer, more peaceful continent free of nuclear weapons? That was the question posed to launch the Mayors for Peace European chapter in partnership with Nuclear-Free Local Authorities and ICAN in a webinar on 4th December 2020. It was the first on the Nuclear Disarmament issue from which I emerged feeling positively inspired.
It’s always good to hear informed and passionate speeches from like-minded people; we know we’re not alone. But we’re stuck with the same old wall of both major parties committed to nuclear deterrence. We know it never was a good idea, least of all now with the world and its challenges so changed. But our Westminster decision-makers think owning and upgrading weapons of mass destruction is the strong, safe policy. I wonder how many of them keep loaded guns at home for the same reason?
In America of course there is a significant minority who do; here, thank goodness, the great majority rely on law and law enforcement for security. That is the British approach at national level and a growing number of our towns and cities agree it should apply globally as well. At present the 13 UK cities signed up to the ICAN appeal to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons include Manchester, Edinburgh, Oxford and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Globally, there are nearly 300 cities. Of the UN Security Council’s P5 group, France and the United States both have much longer lists of cities than we do including their capitals, Paris and Washington DC. Russia and China have none, reflecting their fear of empowered local government and organised civil society.
‘Local’ may be an ambiguous term but it’s useful. Europe is our local continent and it’s encouraging that it now has its own branch of Mayors for Peace. As of 1 January 2021 they had 8,002 member cities in 165 countries and regions. For WDC/CND, local means the London Borough of Merton. If the activists in Tower Hamlets can persuade their Council, let’s see if we can do the same — with the newly ratified treaty to lend authority!
Musicians for Peace and Disarmament
To mark the entry into force of the Ban Treaty on Friday 22nd January 2021, Musicians for Peace and Disarmament (MPD) organised a special online concert featuring a range of classical musicians and folk singers, which was ably put together by Yvonne Cheng, the MPD Administrator.
The programme included Brahms’ Piano Quartet in C minor and Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G minor. I particularly enjoyed two pieces: ‘And the Wind Whispered’ composed and played by Wissam Coustany on the flute (reflecting his own experience of war in the Lebanon and how the wind is able to travel without hindrance across borders but refugees face multiple barriers), and ‘Through the Trees’, by the folk duo Nancy Kerr and James Fagan. This was written by Kerr as part of a project called Shake the Chains in 2017, about the importance of song in protest. It is a homage to the women of Greenham Common, where she was taken as a child by her mother, and which made a big impression on her.
During the interval Dr Tilman Russ, Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne and Co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, gave a moving address. Speaking from Melbourne, he began by acknowledging the importance of the indigenous aboriginal community in their role as traditional guardians of the land. He stressed how the current Covid crisis has underlined the vital nature of international co-operation in tackling all the existential threats that we face. As this is the first international treaty to ban nuclear weapons completely, it will fuel divestment and a new moral framework in the same way that the treaties banning land mines and chemical and biological weapons have. Nuclear weapons are man-made, and machines made by human hands can be undone by human hands. Dr Russ concluded by saying that the treaty is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons and therefore a very powerful tool in the continuing battle to eliminate nuclear weapons for good.
Musicians for Peace and Disarmament regularly put on concerts in various locations in both North and South London. For further information about future concerts, visit their website http://www.mpdconcerts.org/events.html.
In a webinar to mark the 75th anniversary of the first session of the UN General Assembly, held in Methodist Central Hall Westminster, the question of whether Britain likes being part of international organisations was raised: the EU? The UN? Edward Mortimer, a writer who was for many years Director of Communications in the UN Secretary-General’s office, replied: “The problem is that we insist on thinking of international organisations as ‘foreign’…”
Dan Plesch — Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS — responded to the same question with reference to the Sex Pistols’ outraged “God Save the Queen” in 1977: “There’s no future in England’s dreaming”. In this pandemic period, the future looms forebodingly. Surely the one certain lesson of the pandemic is that Building Back Better will only be possible through international cooperation. And no organisation would be better placed to coordinate that cooperation than an inclusive and well-funded United Nations.
Global Britain could continue to play a significant role in the future we want and the UN we need, provided we the voters are so minded.
Over the years, our group has amassed a collection of banners, made for carrying on marches, promoting events, supporting campaigns, etc. Due to a lack of storage space and the fact that many of them were out-of-date and could no longer be of use, we needed to rationalise them. Thanks to Ruth Crabb and Gill McCall, this has now been done. Happily, the Wimbledon Museum has agreed to take seven of them, including the one we displayed for our annual Fête of the Earth. To accompany the display in the Museum, Maisie Carter has written this short history of what was surely our highest-profile and longest-running local event.
It was on 12th June 1980 that Sir Francis Pym, Defence Secretary at the time, announced the government’s decision to allow the siting of American cruise missiles in Britain. 160 missiles were to be located at RAF Greenham Common, and RAF Molesworth, Cambridgeshire, stored in purpose-built shelters with considerably increased security on both sites. In spite of government assurance that nuclear warheads would not be tested from these sites, there was vigorous opposition from the local communities. But the main opposition and mass protests came from supporters of CND, who saw the siting of cruise missiles on British soil as a massive escalation of the nuclear arms race, which could endanger the peace of the world.
This period saw the establishment of the Greenham Common Peace Camp, begun when a group of women marched from Cardiff to Greenham Common to protest. They stayed on, gathering mass support, with women coming from all over the country to demand the dismantling of the bases, from September 1981 until after the cruise missiles were finally removed in 1991.
WDC/CND was formed at this time, and, from this group came the idea of the Fête of the Earth. A book entitled “The Fate of the Earth”, by Jonathan Schell, was published in 1982. It spelled out the devastating consequences of nuclear war; it was about confronting the unthinkable — the destruction of humanity and most life on earth. It therefore seemed fitting that we should use a homophone of fate for the name of our fête.
We continued to hold an annual Fête of the Earth from 1982 until 2018, which grew in popularity, both for the high quality of the products on sale and for our message of nuclear disarmament, which was always a big feature of the event. Much in demand were the amazing plants, grown mostly by our indefatigable secretary, Joanna Bazley, who worked all year round growing plants and seedlings in her house, greenhouse and garden. Books, bric-a-brac, cakes, raffles, sideshows, music and food were all extremely popular. Sadly, due to the tragic death of Joanna in 2018, the logistics of organising the fête became insurmountable, and thus 2018 saw the last Fête of the Earth.
This is Amnesty International’s 60th birthday year. Kate Allen, director of AI (UK) writes “Amid the pandemic, activism flourishes. This year has been challenging…. yet I find my spirits soar when I see how Amnesty supporters have responded when all normal activities have been upended….”
The Wimbledon & Merton Amnesty Group has continued to campaign throughout 2020 using Zoom, Microsoft Teams and email to prepare letters for prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders under the umbrella of the Write for Rights campaign. We sent e-cards most recently for Germain Rukuki, campaigner against torture in Burundi, sentenced to 32 years in prison. You can write directly to Germain and his wife, Emelyne Mupfasoni, c/o Amnesty in Nairobi (email to firstname.lastname@example.org).
The campaigns do succeed, but often slowly; Narges Mohammadi, jailed in 2015 for her human rights work in Iran, was freed in October 2020. We (WMAG) have previously campaigned on behalf of Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe, who had been imprisoned in Iran. She is still under house arrest in Iran, separated from her daughter and her husband in England. The video The Prisoner and the Pen contains voices and words of prisoners in the MENA (Middle East/North Africa) region: https://youtu.be/AGsiHqiCYO0
There are 10 appeals this year, which you can see at https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/write-for-rights/ and take instant action.
The local group would welcome your participation in local (virtual) meetings and activities; contact email@example.com.