Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons under the spotlight in Vienna

The 2022 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons took place at the Austria Centre in Vienna on the 20th of June 2022. Given that the conference took place on the day before the First Meeting of State Parties on the Treaty of the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, it set the tone for the three days ahead, reminding delegates, media, and civil society members of the negative impact that weapons of mass destruction have for humanity.

The conference began with an opening ceremony that featured H.E. Alexander Schallenberg, Federal Minister for Europe and International Affairs of Austria, H.E. Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, and H.E. Dr. Mohamed Elbaradei, Director General Emeritus of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2005), who set the stage for the events of the conference by condemning the “irresponsible” threat of using nuclear weapons as well as reminding all attendees about the catastrophic consequences of these weapons.

The conference consisted of panels, speeches, and socialising. Following the opening ceremony, METO team members watched three testimonials by those who had been affected by the proliferation of nuclear weapons. When talking about the testimonials during the break, the team shared some of their favourite bits of each speech. Suzaka Nakamura from Know Nukes Tokyo is a third generation Nagasaki survivor. The audience was moved by her passionate account of her own fear for her life due to the unknown intergenerational effects of the a-bomb. Afterwards, Danity Laukon from MISA4ThePacific spoke about the ways in which her community has been devastated by the impacts of nuclear testing.

The panel that followed was hosted by Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, the Director for Disarmament, Arms Control, and Non-Proliferation within the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe and International Affairs. Panellists discussed a wide range of subjects regarding the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons including the impact on humanitarian assistance, prior close calls, and the gender gap in terms of the harm caused by nuclear radiation.          

Over the rest of the day, METO team members flowed between listening to panels and engaging in discussions with state delegates and other civil society members to raise awareness about METO’s goal to establish a weapons of mass destruction free zone. METO Directors, Programme Associates, and University Network Representatives approached states such as Canada, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Japan, and more, sharing the Draft Treaty and holding conversations with them regarding the future of WMDs in the Middle East. The team also cooperated with other organisations, discussing their common agendas to create a world without nuclear weapons.

*Photo by Salma Al Wahaibi

Published by Britt Gronemeyer

Britt Gronemeyer is a third year student at the University of St Andrews. She is working towards a joint degree in Modern History and Middle Eastern Studies. She also writes for her school’s Law Review, focusing on International Law and Freedom of the Press.