President, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
President, International Committee of the Red Cross
6 August 2014, Geneva (IFRC/ICRC)
Remembering Hiroshima: Nuclear disarmament is a humanitarian imperative
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s involvement in the nuclear debate dates back to the moment the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On 6 August, 1945, at 8.15am, there was a flash of light over the city and in an instant, tens of thousands of people were dead, hospitals and health centres were incinerated and the city was left in ruins.
But in the midst of this appalling devastation, one hospital survived. The Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital – which miraculously escaped complete destruction despite its closeness to the epicentre of the blast – began to fill with casualties. Yet, most equipment and medicine had been destroyed or was unusable, and many of its doctors and nurses had been killed or injured. But there was dedication, and there was help to come. Dr. Marcel Junod of the International Committee of the Red Cross heard of the devastation and became the first non-Japanese doctor to assess the event. His reports are a chilling account of what occurs in the aftermath of a nuclear detonation.
The issue of nuclear weapons has remained a serious concern of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement for the past 69 years. We voiced our concern about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons after their use in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a result, in 1948 the 17th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement adopted a resolution calling for the prohibition of atomic weapons. This was followed by a resolution of the 18th International Conference in 1952. Later resolutions also urged the prohibition of all weapons of mass destruction.
More recently, in 2011, the Council of Delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement again expressed its concern. It adopted a resolution stating that it is ‘deeply concerned about the destructive power of nuclear weapons, the unspeakable human suffering they cause, the difficulty of controlling their effects in space and time, the threat they pose to the environment and to future generations and the risks of escalation they create’. It also appealed to States to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again and to pursue negotiations to prohibit and completely eliminate nuclear weapons based on exiting commitments and international obligations. The Movement’s determination to work towards these goals was further expressed in a four year plan of action adopted in 2013.