By Dato’ Seri DiRaja Tan Sri Tunku Puteri Intan Safinaz Binti Almarhum Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah and Biljana Milosevic
Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak despises war. He dreams of a day mankind would find peace with one another and with themselves.
His idealism is heartening, especially from a man whose late father was the sole Malaysian survivor of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings in 1945.
When the bomb hit Hiroshima on August 6 that year, Abdul Razak Abdul Hamid was a 19-year-old student attending a lecture at the Hiroshima Bunn University. According to accounts of his experience, he blacked out as the building collapsed and awoke to massive destruction. Being just 1.5 kilometres from where the bomb hit, his survival was nothing short of a miracle.
But what he saw and heard that day – charred remains of the dead, screams of pain from those who barely survived, skins dangling off bodies like bloody wet rags, a flattened city – was akin to hell on Earth. It left an indelible mark on him, later turning him into a fierce advocate against nuclear war.
Dzulkifli shares his father’s resolve. Speaking with us recently, Dzulkifli, today an emeritus professor and Rector of the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM), teemed with frustration at why efforts towards nuclear disarmament have yet to find resolution 75 years after the Hiroshima-Nagasaki catastrophe.
“Do we all have to go through this same very horrible traumatic experience my father did?” he asked.
While Dzulkifli’s father was lucky enough to escape lasting physical and psychological damage from the bombing, hundreds of thousands of others weren’t. Over 100,000 people died instantly when the bombs were dropped on August 6 and 9, 1945. Triple that number died within five years from its effects.
Why we want a total ban on nuclear weapons
The Japanese Red Cross Society, later assisted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), were among the first organisations to bring assistance to the sick, wounded and dying during the Hiroshima-Nagasaki tragedy. Like Abdul Razak, many of our volunteers and medical personnel witnessed the unspeakable suffering and devastation of the horrible event. Japanese Red Cross hospitals have since collectively handled more than 2.5 million outpatient visits by atomic bomb survivors and more than 2.6 million admissions of survivors as inpatients.
Humanitarian disasters are often the catalyst for the adoption of new laws to prevent further suffering, deaths and atrocities in war. Yet, despite the Hiroshima-Nagasaki experience, there remains a legal gap today on the existence and use of nuclear weapons.
This is why we, as the heads of the Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS) and the ICRC Kuala Lumpur Regional Delegation, and partners in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent (RCRC) Movement, are making this joint call for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
Our position is that nuclear weapons cannot comply with the fundamental international humanitarian law (IHL) principles of humanity, distinction, and proportionality. We also know that any nuclear blast would cause insurmountable challenges for humanitarian assistance and that adequate assistance capacities do not currently exist at national or international levels. If help is not possible, then who will assist the victims of nuclear weapons? And how?
But there’s hope.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)
On Saturday (October 24, 2020), the United Nations confirmed that 50 countries have ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), paving the way for its entry into force on January 22, 2020.
This means that within just 90 days, a new global norm will enter into force explicitly prohibiting nuclear weapons — the most terrifying and inhumane weapon ever created.
We’re celebrating this historic milestone because while this is not the nail in the coffin for nuclear weapons, the TPNW is a game-changer.
It complements the current legal regime established through treaties such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by comprehensively prohibiting nuclear weapons and by addressing the devastating humanitarian impacts of their testing and use.
It contains distinctive and specific obligations for State Parties that possess and did not possess nuclear weapons upon its adoption, with the clear goal of eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.
It also requires State Parties, individually and jointly, with or without assistance of the RCRC Movement, to provide humanitarian assistance (e.g. medical care, psychosocial support and socioeconomic inclusion) to victims, and to remedy any resulting environmental damage.
In short, it brings us one step closer towards a world free from nuclear weapons
A national achievement for Malaysia
We say with pride that as the 46th nation to ratify the TPNW on September 30, 2020, Malaysia played a significant role in the treaty’s imminent entry into force.
Malaysia is party to the NPT and the CTBT, and continues to play an active role in related multilateral fora. After noting her legal opinion and concerns to the International Court of Justice during the proceedings in its 1996 Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Malaysia was also one of the first 16 States to initiate the reshaping of the nuclear disarmament debate for a greater focus on the catastrophic humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons.
Malaysia was pivotal in the discussions and negotiations during the three Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in 2013 and 2014, and during the Open-Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament meetings in 2016. And it was Malaysia’s own Datuk Dr Ronald McCoy who first proposed the establishment of the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in 2005, a campaign that went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.
These initiatives culminated in the adoption of the TPNW in 2017, which saw Malaysia among the 122 States that voted in favor. Therefore, the treaty’s 50th ratification milestone is in many ways a national achievement for Malaysia and for this, we commend the Malaysian government.
The way forward: What you can do for nuclear disarmament
There’s no denying there remains a long road ahead to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Prohibition is just the beginning – we must now ensure the TPNW’s provisions are meaningfully implemented by its State Parties.
On this, Malaysia has and can continue lead by example. What follows ratification and entry into force of a treaty is its implementation in domestic legal frameworks and we in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement stand ready to support the government in its efforts towards this.
We also hope Malaysia will intensify and scale up its advocacy efforts on the global stage, to encourage more States to accede to the treaty and to achieve its broadest possible adherence. As the Chair of Main Committee I in the upcoming NPT Review Conference in 2021, Malaysia remains in a prime position to do this.
The fact remains that the 50 States who ratified the TPNW represent only a fraction of the world’s nations. And there are still more than 13,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, many of them 10 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This is why we also call on you for help.
We know it’s hard to act on something that you don’t know for certain will happen again. We know the prospect of a nuclear war isn’t something you spend your days worrying, or even thinking about.
But as Dzulkifli said, we don’t need nor want to go through the experience his father did to do something.
Action can take any shape or form. Start by learning about the issue. Spread the word, post about it on social media, start a conversation. Put the issue of nuclear weapons on the agendas of the civic, religious, social and other organisations you're part of. Write to the media, share your concerns with local community and political leaders. Get involved, be a part of the solution.
There is no action too little or too small. But you must act now. Decide on the future of nuclear weapons before it decides our future for us.
This article was jointly written by Her Highness Tan Sri Tunku Puteri Intan Safinaz Binti Almarhum Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, Tunku Temenggong Kedah, National Chairperson of the Malaysian Red Crescent Society and Biljana Milosevic, Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Kuala Lumpur Regional Delegation
To learn about nuclear weapons and what you can do, join our campaign now. Visit https://www.icrc.org/en/nuclear-ban-treaty-no-to-nukes
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