In Society > Peace Proposals > Toward an Era of Human Rights: Building a People’s Movement

Toward an Era of Human Rights: Building a People’s Movement

The year 2017 proved to be a turning point for peace and disarmament. A series of negotiations at the United Nations finally led to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in July; to date it has been signed by more than fifty states. Once it enters into force, the Treaty will follow bans on biological and chemical arms to complete the international framework prohibiting all weapons of mass destruction. 

The idea of abolishing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arms, was on the UN agenda from the outset, dating back to the very first resolution adopted by the General Assembly in January 1946, the year after the UN’s establishment. Adoption of the landmark TPNW represents a breakthrough in a field that has been marked by seemingly unbreakable impasse. Moreover, the Treaty was realized with the strong support of civil society, including the survivors of nuclear weapons use, the hibakusha. Their contributions were recognized when the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the civil society coalition that has continued to strive for a treaty-based prohibition of nuclear weapons. 

In her speech at the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony held in December, Setsuko Thurlow, who spoke after ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn, declared the following based on her experience as a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima: 

Humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist. . . 

These weapons are not a necessary evil; they are the ultimate evil. [1] 

This conviction is shared by the members of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), who have been working together with ICAN since soon after its founding—a collaboration that was reconfirmed when Ms. Fihn visited the Soka Gakkai Headquarters in Japan this January.

To fundamentally negate the existence of those seen as enemies, to be willing to eradicate them with an extreme destructive power—this cruel tendency to deny human dignity underlies the thinking that justifies the possession of nuclear weapons. 

This is precisely what my mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda (1900–58), expressed in his declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons in September 1957 amidst the intensifying nuclear arms race of the Cold War. As the nuclear threat expanded in the name of a deterrence-based peace, Toda declared, “I want to expose and rip out the claws that lie hidden in the very depths of such weapons,” [2] condemning the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons as fundamentally jeopardizing the right of the world’s people to live. 

Taking Toda’s declaration to heart, during a lecture I gave a half-century ago (in May 1968) just as negotiations on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) were coming to a conclusion, I proposed that, going beyond agreement on the NPT, it was important to prohibit nuclear arms in all their phases and aspects, including manufacture, testing and use. 

In addition, on the occasion of the First Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Disarmament forty years ago (1978), I submitted a ten-point proposal for nuclear disarmament and abolition. I subsequently wrote a proposal on the occasion of the Second Special Session on Disarmament (1982) as well. The following year, I began authoring annual peace proposals to commemorate the SGI’s founding on January 26, an effort I have continued for the past thirty-five years in the hope of opening a path for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons. 

Why have I focused so single-mindedly on finding a resolution to the nuclear issue? This is because, just as Josei Toda discerned, so long as nuclear weapons exist the quest for a world of peace and human rights for all will remain elusive. 

One organization with which the SGI has developed strong ties in our shared efforts for nuclear abolition is the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Jayantha Dhanapala, who served as the organization’s president until 2017, has stressed that a moral compass is indispensable in addressing the multitude of global challenges including the nuclear problem. He writes: 

It is widely, but wrongly, assumed that the realm of ethical values and the world of pragmatic politics are wide apart and that never the twain shall meet. The achievements of the UN illustrate that there can be a fusion between ethics and policy, and it is this fusion that contributes to the betterment of mankind and to peace. [3] 

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) 

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a civil society coalition based in Geneva, Switzerland, launched in 2007. As of January 2018, the coalition is composed of 468 nongovernmental organizations in 101 countries worldwide, representing millions of members united in the common goal of a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons. The SGI has been an international partner of this movement for the realization of a nuclear-weapon-free world since its early stages. ICAN received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its “work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and “ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.” Subsequent to the July 2017 adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, ICAN’s main focus has been on persuading nations to sign, ratify and implement the Treaty. This is done through public awareness-raising events and advocacy work at the United Nations and in national parliaments, often working together with hibakusha.3 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which commemorates its seventieth anniversary this year, can be seen as a pioneering example of this. 

Here, while considering the significance of the UDHR, I would like to offer some thoughts and perspectives on a human rights-focused approach to resolving global issues. For I believe that such an approach, rooted in concern for the life and dignity of each individual, can bring about the fusion of ethics and policy that is required for an effective response.