Building peace in towns: Mayors for Peace

Josep Mayoral
Mayor of Granollers. Vice-president of Mayors for Peace
Josep Mayoral

Josep Mayoral

Every year on 6 August, at 8.15 a.m., time stops in the Hiroshima Peace Park, in memory of the victims of the atomic bombing of the city. And every year on 9 August, at 11.02, the city of Nagasaki commemorates the destruction caused by the second bomb dropped on Japan in 1945.

There is a minute's silence for the victims, and a moment to remember the horror of war and an opportunity to listen to the testimony of people who lived through the bombing. The aim of the event is to demand the elimination of the nuclear threat. It is an expression of a commitment to peace.
In December 1945, calculations suggested that over 200,000 people had died as a result of the bombings. New names are added to the list every year. Even today, many people are suffering from the consequences of exposure to the atomic bomb. Those who survived the attack have physical and mental injuries that will accompany them for the rest of their lives. And many of their descendants suffer from serious illnesses.

The elimination of weapons of mass destruction, and especially nuclear weapons, is an objective that is shared by many people who lived through the horror of the explosion, and many other people committed to peace all over the world. In order that a tragedy like theirs should never be repeated, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have led a movement to show the world their experience and to work towards the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. For some years, Mayors for Peace has been working towards the total removal of the nuclear threat by the year 2020, the 75th anniversary of the bombing.

Mayors for Peace is an international organization, which currently has over 3,600 member towns from 135 countries and regions. It is an association of towns that works for peace and disarmament on two levels: by working with governments and international organizations to achieve international commitments that enable them to progress towards a fairer and more peaceful world (by meeting the millennium objectives or fostering all types of disarmament), and working within towns for tolerance, peaceful conflict resolution and education for peace.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will take place at the United Nations headquarters in New York this May. At the Conference, a great deal of hope will be placed on achieving specific agreements that enable progress to be made towards disarmament. Mayors for Peace will be participating actively, representing millions of citizens who have expressed their desire to live in a fairer, more caring and more peaceful world.
The NPT was signed in 1968 and came into force in 1970, and has three basic pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology. It has been ratified by 189 countries, including the five States recognized as Arms Nuclear States (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France), and has not been signed by India, Pakistan or Israel, countries which possess nuclear weapons but which have not acknowledged this. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the Treaty in 2003.
Article 6 of the NPT anticipates nuclear disarmament: "Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control." There has been no subsequent development that has led to this article being implemented.

Many voices are demanding stricter international legislation on disarmament, and specific agreements to abolish nuclear weapons, as stipulated in article 6 of the Treaty. However, although the international community unanimously agrees that nuclear weapons should never be used again, because of their indiscriminate effects, their impact on the environment and their profound consequences for security, the fact is that no agreement on their elimination has been reached.

However, the 2010 Review Conference takes place in a context that is much more favorable to breakthroughs in disarmament. The first is the change in North American politics, emphatically expressed by President Obama in Prague in April 20091. The second is the historic resolution by the United Nations Security Council of September 2009, in which heads of state and government made a commitment to working to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, and gave their support to a broad range of measures for reducing the nuclear threats in the world. And third, and most recently, there is the new START agreement signed between the United States and Russia for the reduction of their nuclear arsenals.

Spain's President Rodríguez Zapatero emphasized the Conference's opportunity to take a decisive step forward towards the abolition of nuclear weapons. In his speech to the Assembly of the United Nations on 24 September last year, he undertook to do everything possible, in Spain and the European Union, for the Review Conference to lead to concrete results that would enable us to move towards a world free of nuclear weapons.

Why are towns and mayors participating actively in the NPT Review Conference? Why are we committed to nuclear disarmament? There are various reasons. First, because towns and their citizens suffer from the consequences of conflicts and have been the victims of attacks by weapons of mass destruction. However, above all, because it is the obligation of local governments, the government that is closest to citizens, to work for the common good. And we must not forget the threat that violent conflicts entail to public security and welfare.

How are we working for peace in towns? By promoting tolerance, respect for difference and the peaceful resolution of conflicts within the towns, as well as a clear commitment to action beyond them. Building peace in the local sphere means promoting social cohesion, fostering civic values and preventing conflicts. And at the same time, building a strategy for external relations and networking with other towns that is consistent with our own municipal policies. We have a vital asset: our citizens. We create policies with civil society, because the city is essentially a collective project.

Our ability to respond and the experience accumulated in research on solutions to conflict within the city places local governments in a vital position in terms of networking with other towns, which enables them to exchange experiences and good practices. That is why we must progress in the search for solutions to common problems. We need to work as a network, to move forward with other cities in the world and we have to have shared working areas, to enhance the role of cities and to establish mechanisms that ensure the participation of the local world in international decision-making.

We are aware that the road towards the abolition of nuclear weapons is not an easy one, and that declarations and resolutions are not enough to achieve concrete results. However, we all agree that significant steps have been taken in disarmament in recent months. At Mayors for Peace, we are convinced that if we are able to work on a coordinated basis, with common objectives and clear route maps, we can also achieve an international commitment for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

1. "So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." (Back)