Nobel peace prize awarded to Melbourne-born advocacy group

Beatrice Fihn of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Photo: Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP
Beatrice Fihn of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Photo: Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP

During a time when the risk of nuclear conflict is imminent, the prestigious Nobel peace prize has been awarded to a Melbourne-born advocacy group that pushed to establish the first treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

The Nobel Committee honoured the now Geneva-based group, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, "for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons."

The group worked to advance the negotiations that led to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was passed earlier this year at the United Nations.

In July, 122 nations voted to pass the treaty, but nuclear-armed states including the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France stayed out of the talks.

Australia is also yet to sign the treaty.

In order to come into effect, the treaty must be signed and ratified by at least 50 countries. Fifty-three countries have signed and three countries, Guyana, Thailand and the Vatican City, have ratified the treaty.

ICAN describes itself as a coalition of grassroots non-government groups in more than 100 nations.

ICAN Asia-Pacific director Tim Wright said the group was elated by the honour and hoped it would mount pressure on countries to join the movement to end the human destruction caused by nuclear weapons.

"We hope this will only boost our campaign and put pressure on countries who haven't signed the treaty yet, including Australia," he said.

"The Australian government, not only failed to participate in negotiations, but it actually tried very hard to stop the talks from taking place. We're calling on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to change Australia's opposition to the treaty and sign just as our neighbours in south-east Asia and the Pacific have done."

"If there is any time to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons, the time is surely now. This is a very dangerous moment in time and there is a very real risk that the situation could spiral out of control. We need to act now before these weapons are ever used again."

He said the group had worked closely alongside survivors of atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the most damaging chapter in the history of British nuclear weapons testing in Australia.

The UK carried out atomic tests in 1952 and 1956 at the Monte Bello Islands off Western Australia, and in 1953 at Emu Field north of Maralinga.

"Their testimonies were really powerful in convincing the governments to create the strongest possible treaty," he said.

"They spoke about the terrible ongoing consequences and without those survivors this wouldn't have been possible."

The group originated in Melbourne a decade ago and was then launched internationally in Vienna in 2007.

"We live in a world where the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time," Berit Reiss-Andersen, the leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said on Friday.

"It is a great honour to have been awarded the Nobel peace prize for 2017 in recognition of our role in achieving the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons," ICAN said in a statement.

"This historic agreement offers a powerful, much-needed alternative to a world in which threats of mass destruction are allowed to prevail and, indeed, are escalating. By harnessing the power of people, we have worked to bring an end to the most destructive weapon ever created - the only weapon that poses an existential threat to all of us."

Once effective, the treaty will categorically outlaw the worst weapons of mass destruction and established pathway for their total elimination.

"It is a response to the ever-deepening concern of the international community that any use of nuclear weapons would inflict catastrophic, widespread and long-lasting harm on people and our living planet," ICAN said.

Citing the increased threat of North Korea, Ms Reiss-Andersen called on nuclear-armed states to initiate negotiations to gradually eliminate the weapons.

Ms Reiss-Andersen said while similar prohibitions have been reached on chemical and biological weapons, land mines and cluster munitions nuclear weapons have avoided a similar international ban.

"The organisation is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a statement.

The committee that chose the winner sorted through more than 300 nominations for this year's award.

The prize, worth $1.42 million, will be presented in Oslo on December 10.

This story Nobel peace prize awarded to Melbourne-born advocacy group first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.