How the Red Cross has been playing its role in a Humanitarian Approach towards the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

by Hiroto OYAMA
   Deputy Director, Office of the President - Japanese Red Cross Society

  In the midst of the global trend pushing for the elimination of nuclear weapons, it is the approach of discussing nuclear weapons from a humanitarian perspective that has been getting the growing focus of attention since the 2010 NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) Review Conference. In February 2014, an international conference to add depth to the debate was held in Nayarit, Mexico, and was attended by government representatives, the Red Cross, NGOs and others from 146 states. I too participated in this conference as a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) delegation.
  In Japanese context, the Red Cross is commonly associated with blood services such as blood donations and medical services at Red Cross hospitals. As a matter of fact, this is rather rare perception in the world, where the identity of the Red Cross is primarily as a relief organization, specializing in disaster response and disaster preparedness both domestically and internationally. Taking this opportunity, I would like to introduce the Red Cross' involvement in the nuclear weapons issue to date, based on the Resolution 1 of the Council of Delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in 2011. (2011 CoD Resolution. See Appendix for detail) It is indeed the Red Cross who has been one of the main drivers of the recent humanitarian approach toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, and it is the aforementioned Red Cross identity as a relief organization that gives the driving force in such effort.

Background of the 2011 CoD Resolution
  The Red Cross has a long relationship with nuclear weapons. When the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital (name at the time), whose building miraculously survived the bombing, became the stage for immediate relief activities for the affected. One month later, Dr. Marcel Junod of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) became the first foreign doctor to come to Hiroshima after the bombing. He communicated to the world the tragedy that he witnessed, and negotiated with General Headquarters, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers at the time to have around 15t of medical supplies and medical equipment delivered to Hiroshima. In 1946, after the Second World War, the Red Cross concluded nuclear weapons as indiscriminate weapons, and lobbied the governments of the signatories to the Geneva Convention to have nuclear weapons added to the weapon list to be banned under the Geneva Convention, same as poison gas munitions and bacteriological weapons. The International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Stockholm in 1948, however, could only adopt the resolution of limited impact that requested the governments to pledge not to use atomic power and other similar types of power for the purpose of war, rather than declaring nuclear weapons illegal in light of the Geneva Convention. This event demonstrated that taking actions against nuclear weapons would not be easy even for the Red Cross - as a front runner of the humanitarian relief and as a guardian of international humanitarian law.
  After that time, there were fewer opportunities for the Red Cross to express its position exclusively on nuclear weapons. However, the year of 2010 turned out to be a turning point. In particular, the Action Plan for Nuclear Disarmament at the NPT Review Conference in May of the same year included the statement to reaffirm the need for all States to constantly adhere to all international laws, including international humanitarian law. This was the first, and was the trigger not only for the governments but also for various civil organizations to approach the Red Cross asking for its perspective on the nuclear weapons issue.
  This phrase "international humanitarian law" was not in the first draft of the Action Plan, and was added as the result of comments made by the representative of the Swiss government. These moves by the Swiss Government and the statement made by Dr. Jakob Kellenberger, President of ICRC at the time, to the diplomatic corps in Geneva would not be a mere coincidence. At the beginning of his statement, Dr. Kellenberger explained the fundamental stance of the ICRC / Red Cross, by saying that the debate on nuclear weapons should not take place only from military or political considerations and that, ultimately, it should be based on considerations of the benefits to human beings, the basic principles of humanitarian law and the future of the whole of humankind. He became a focus of attention with his statement that nuclear weapons should never be used again, and with his call for the conclusion of a legally binding treaty for that purpose.

Significance of the 2011 CoD Resolution
  The 2011 CoD Resolution was the product of such background. The Resolution emphasizes, by adding on top of the Kellenberger statement, the lack of humanitarian relief capability to cope with the consequences caused by the use of nuclear weapons. In other words, the Red Cross, itself as a provider of humanitarian relief, claims that it would not be able to provide effective humanitarian relief in such situation. The mandate of the Red Cross is to be prepared for natural disasters, accidents and unforeseen incidents, including the relief for the victims of a nuclear disaster in case of nuclear power plant accident, for instance. The perspective of the Red Cross can be seen as credible enough because of the fact that even the Red Cross would not be able to respond to any use of nuclear weapons.
  Another key factor of this Resolution is its international nature. Being an international resolution, the message of the Red Cross went beyond the borders of one Swiss organization, the ICRC, and became the one owned by the global Red Cross Movement. Such global aspect of the Resolution has become a major source of encouragement not only for the Japanese Red Cross Society but also for the Norwegian Red Cross whose country is a member of NATO, and Australian Red Cross whose country is also under the similar nuclear umbrella.

Impact of the 2011 CoD Resolution-Joint Statements, Oslo Conference, Mexico Conference
  Since that time there has been a steady growth in attention paid at inter-governmental conferences to the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. The year after the 2011 CoD Resolution was adopted, in May 2012, the 1st Preparatory Committee Meeting for the 2015 NPT Review Conference was held (Vienna), and it was there that the Swiss government representative announced the Joint Statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament, which was based on what was written in the 2011 CoD Resolution and jointly signed by 16 states. After this, the number of signatories to similar joint statements increased up to 35 states in October of that year (United Nations General Assembly First Committee), 80 states in April 2013 (2nd Preparatory Committee Meeting for the 2015 NPT Review Conference), and had reached 125 states, including Japan, by October of that year when the 4th joint statement was signed (United Nations General Assembly First Committee). In March 2013 the Norwegian government held the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, and 127 government representatives gathered to attend the meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, ICRC President Peter Maurer stated loudly and clearly once again that the Red Cross would not be able to respond to the humanitarian consequences that would occur if nuclear weapons were used.
  The Mexico Conference, just held in February 2014, gathered attention as people watched for the follow-up actions that would be taken after the Norway Conference. The increased number of participating states - from 127 in Norway to 146 in Mexico - was one positive outcome. In terms of content, there were reports on risk management, which was not covered at the Norway conference. In other words, the possibility of misfires resulting from mistakes with machinery or human error, infiltration into systems by hackers, and other risks relating to the maintenance, management and operation of nuclear weapons were discussed. At this conference, the United Nations also reported that responding to the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons would be difficult, and that both of international coordination during emergencies and preparedness measures be also major challenges.
Opening speech by Ms. Christine Beerli, Vice-President of ICRC (2014 Mexico Conference)
  In light of the fact that verification of "evidence"-based humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons that had started in Norway had proceeded further, the Mexico Conference closed with an expression of great expectations that the humanitarian approach would in the future lead to concrete actions to eliminate nuclear weapons. The 5 nuclear-weapon states were all absent from both the Norway Conference and the Mexico Conference. The Austrian government will be hosting the next international conference of similar kind later this year, and there will be attention focused on what preparations will be made for the conference.

Challenges and Outlook for the Red Cross
  As a follow-up to the 2011 CoD Resolution, the Red Cross adopted a new related resolution in 2013. The key point of the new resolution was that it included an action plan for all constituent members of the Red Cross Movement.
  It goes without saying that the Japanese Red Cross Society is a part of it. For the Japanese Red Cross Society, the existence of these resolutions represents a clear and logical motivation and cause, in addition to the sense of moral mission as the Red Cross society of a country that has experienced the atomic bombing. In any case, the first thing required is to more thoroughly communicate these resolutions to the over 60,000 paid employees of our own organization and volunteers. It seems that Japanese Red Cross is not the only one facing this challenge - the Red Cross National Societies in NATO member states in Europe also have the same issue. They seem to be considering taking joint action as a group, and the moves of such a group may hold the key for the future of humanitarian approach.
  While the 2011 and 2013 CoD resolutions are nothing more than resolutions adopted within the Red Cross, in November 2015 the International Conference of Red Cross and Red Crescent will be held with participation by Geneva Convention signatory states, and for the Red Cross, this conference will be the next key event that tests the true value of the CoD resolutions. There are also a number of important inter-governmental events prior to this conference, including the conference (mentioned above) to be held by the Austrian government, and the 2015 NPT Review Conference. The Red Cross will continue to closely monitor such international trend.

In the same way as the Red Cross, Mayors for Peace too has as its strength in its global aspect, linking nations through its clear aim of building solidarity among cities for the abolition of nuclear weapons. I think that there are many things that the Red Cross can learn from Mayors for Peace, both in terms of how the organization has exercised such strength to date, and what kind of plans it has for the future. I hope that both organizations can develop and grow together.

(Appendix) 2011 CoD Resolution - Outline
・ 2 statements by the Red Cross:
1. The use of nuclear weapons is generally incompatible with the ideals stipulated in international humanitarian law.
→ Support for the similar advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in 1996
2. If nuclear weapons are used, there is no humanitarian relief capability to cope with the consequences.
→ Calling attention that there is no party able to take appropriate action in response to a situation that may realistically occur
・ Requests to the governments, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies:
1. Governments are requested not to use nuclear weapons from a humanitarian perspective, notwithstanding any interpretation of laws related to the use of nuclear weapons.
2. Governments are requested to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons based on currently existing international obligations and commitments and through legally-binding international consensus, and to hold prompt and decisive negotiations and reach conclusions for their complete elimination.
3. Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies in all states are requested to use "humanitarian diplomacy" to conduct awareness activities to communicate to the general public, scientists, medical practitioners and others the destructive damage caused by nuclear weapons, the issues related to international humanitarian law that originate in the use of nuclear weapons, and the need for concrete action that will lead to a ban on such weapons and their elimination.
4. Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies in all states are requested in the same way to use "humanitarian diplomacy" to communicate to all national governments the Red Cross' position on the nuclear weapons issue.
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Profile [Hiroto OYAMA]
Born 1972, Kagawa Prefecture.
BA in Social Studies, Hitotsubashi University. MA in International Relations, Lancaster University, United Kingdom.
Employed at Japanese Red Cross Society from 1999. After working in the International Relief Division, International Department and as Regional Officer, IFRC - Geneva, assumed current post in December 2009.

(photo caption) At Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital & Atomic-bomb Survivors Hospital

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