On October 6, 2017, the Norwegian Nobel Committee stated that ICAN had won the award “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 on such weapons.”1
Nobel Committee chairwoman, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said that similar prohibitions had been reached on chemical and biological weapons, land mines and cluster munitions, but despite being “even more destructive” nuclear weapons have avoided a similar international ban.
That was until a historic global agreement was reached at the United Nations headquarters in New York on July 7, 2017 when 122 nations adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, or the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.
In a formal statement, ICAN described the 2017 prize as a tribute to “the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who, ever since the dawn of the atomic age, have loudly protested nuclear weapons” and to “the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—the hibakusha—and victims of nuclear test explosions”.2
According to ICAN Executive Director, Beatrice Fihn, with the ending of the Cold War, the possession and use of weapons of mass destruction is “no longer acceptable” in the 21st century.
ICAN was formed ten years ago in Melbourne with Felicity Hill as its disarmament campaign co-ordinator.
It was officially launched in Vienna, Austria in April 2007 during the Non-Proliferation Treaty preparatory committee meeting.
ICAN was inspired by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines which had played a major role in the negotiation of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, also known as the Ottawa Treaty. That treaty prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel land mines.
In wanting to emulate the success of this campaign, ICAN worked to bring together a diverse range of organisations with the specific goal of achieving a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.
Since its launch in 2007, ICAN has become a global civil society coalition comprising 468 peace, human rights, environment, development and faith groups in 101 countries. It currently has five paid members: three in Geneva, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney.
ICAN’s Asia-Pacific director, Tim Wright, said it was a “huge honour” to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
In an interview with the ABC, he said that this prize was effectively the first Australian Nobel Peace Prize that had ever been awarded.
He said that over the last decade, ICAN had been working to build support globally for a prohibition on nuclear weapons and that they had been doing this by focusing on the catastrophic humanitarian impacts that would confront humankind if nuclear weapons were ever used again.
“We’ve been working with survivors of atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with survivors of nuclear testing here in Australia and in the Pacific.”
Tim Wright said that ICAN will be “calling on all countries to sign the new UN treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, which offers a powerful alternative to a world in which threats of mass destruction are allowed to prevail.”
One of its priorities will be to persuade the Australian government to become a signatory.
Up until now, Australia has opposed the treaty because it considers the US ‘nuclear umbrella’ to be essential for its security. “This position” Tim Wright said, “is immoral and dangerous.”3
Peace Prize Ceremony
Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and Beatrice Fihn, ICAN’s executive director, will jointly accept the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the campaign at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10, 2017. The prize is worth nine million Swedish crowns or A$1.42 million.
1.Nobel Committee, ‘The Nobel Peace Prize 2017 – Summary’, Oct 6, 2017.
2. ICAN, ‘Nobel Peace Prize 2017’, Oct 6, 2017.
3. For more information on why Australia opposes the nuclear weapon ban treaty, refer to the Late Night Live episode ‘Why doesn’t Australia want to ban nukes?’, Jun 20, 2017. The episode also discusses the British nuclear tests in Australia and their tragic impact on Aboriginal people.