Youth Determined to Push Through UN Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Originally published by Ramesh Jaura in In Depth News, 10 August 2017.

This is the first in a series of two reports on the Science and Technology Conference of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) from June 26 to June 30, 2017 in Austria’s capital Vienna. – The Editor

“As youth, we are the future leaders of the world, the ones who will inherit and live in the world left behind for us, and the bearers of the hopes and dreams for our children and their children after them,” declared a group of young people who are members of the CTBTO Youth Group.

“Twenty years after the opening of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) for signature, we regret that this Treaty, which would establish a legally binding, comprehensive prohibition on nuclear explosive testing, has yet to enter into force,” said the Group in a joint statement.

For so many years, the international community has not been able to secure entry into force of the CTBT despite the diplomatic energies invested into the process, continued the statement, adding:

“We believe that a change in approach is necessary and recognize that each of the remaining Annex 2 States (China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan, and the United States) has concerns that should be recognized and addressed. We trust in the power of constructive dialogue based on the principle of equality to address and resolve these differences.”

The statement affirmed the Group’s shared vision for a world free of nuclear weapons. “To that end, we hold the CTBT to be a critical next step towards nuclear disarmament and an important component of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.”

These views expressed in a statement on June 13, 2016 reverberated some five months after Dr Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), launched the Group at the symposium on “Science and Diplomacy for Peace and Security: the CTBT@20“ in Austria’s capital Vienna, which hosts the CTBTO.

Dr Zerbo argued that much like the situation with climate change and the environment, youth today are faced with the consequences of the short sighted decision making of the past.

“My generation has the responsibility to ensure that youth are provided with educational opportunities and training that will prepare them to meet the challenges of the future,” he added. This is why he launched the CTBTO Youth Group in February 2016, and provided participants with access to CTBT educational material, networks and forums and opportunities to take part in the outreach activities of the organization.

The Group is open to all students and young professionals who are directing their careers towards global peace and security and who wish to actively promote the CTBT and its verification regime.

Currently, the Group has a membership of over 200 students and young professionals from around the world. The Group members share the common goal of achieving the entry into force of the CTBT. Through capacity building, members are empowered to use their individual voices, determine what the CTBT means to them, and convey this message in a manner that is meaningful to their peers and the community at large.

Furthermore, the resources offered to the group by the CTBTO serve to facilitate interaction among members for brainstorming, knowledge sharing, and the development of projects.

At the CTBTO Science and Technology Conference from June 26 to June 30, 2017 at Vienna’s glamorous and prestigious Hofburg Palace, the Group launched in February 2016 seemed to have come of age – thanks also due to the commitment of the Chief of CTBTO’s Public Information to ensure that the objective set out by Executive Secretary Dr Zerbo is achieved sooner rather than later.

The CTBTO Youth Group – represented by 70 members from over 50 countries – was not only an integral part of the Science and Technology conference deliberations. Youth participants also presented their own papers and outreach projects, participated in workshops and discussions, and tried their hands at “citizen journalism” in the ‘Youth Newsroom’ project.

In a series of events during the five days, the Group members also reaffirmed their commitment to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, a goal which is indubitably related to entry into force of the CTBT which bans nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground.

They proved their ability to revitalize the discussion around the CTBT among decision-makers, academia, students, expert society and media, to raise awareness of the importance of the nuclear test-ban, build a basis for knowledge transfer to the younger generation, involve new technologies into promoting the CTBT – social media, digital visualization, interactive means of delivering information, and the capability to place the CTBT on the agenda of the world’s most important nuclear-related events.

Besides, over the previous year, the CTBTO Youth Group members have been regularly participating in and contributing to relevant events and activities to help raise awareness on the mandate of the Organization and to convey the importance of a legally binding global ban on nuclear testing. They have been involved in high-profile events, among others, in Washington, New York, and Brussels.

At the June 2016 Ministerial Meeting to commemorate the CTBT’s 20th anniversary, Youth Group members delivered a joint  statement. They had the opportunity to put questions not only to CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr Zerbo but also to the UN High-Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo during the event “Conversation with Youth – Ending Nuclear Tests: why should I care” and to meet former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the “CTBT20 Panel with UNSG Ban Ki-moon”.

The resolve emerging from statements during the Youth Group events at the June Conference was: “We will spare no effort to contribute to the universal goal and get our generation to witness the long-awaited entry into force of the Treaty.”

This in turn appeared to affirm the CTBTO Executive Secretary’s repeated conviction that youth engagement is essential for achieving real progress on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament measures, and that investing in education at different levels has to be a fundamental part of the solution, and should be undertaken in an inclusive and collaborative way.

Dr Zerbo is a staunch advocate of “an innovative and a focused approach” to advance the entry into force of the CTBT. With this in view, he launched the Group of Eminent Persons (GEM) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in September 2013, less than two months after assuming the position of the Executive Secretary.

According to an observer, members of the Group of Eminent Persons are so much impressed by the Youth Group that they would prefer to listen to its members instead of telling them what needs be done and how.

Echoing that sentiment, Dr Zerbo said: “Your generation, you are not called the Leaders of tomorrow but the Leaders of today. The young generation leads the world on social media, and we have to be with you, share our vision with you and then take the fresh energy that you bring so that we can move together and achieve the goal that we set for ourselves and for the future generation.”