UN holds high-level plenary session to commemorate International Day against Nuclear Tests

September 10, 2019

NEW YORK – The United Nations held a high-level plenary session Sept. 9 to commemorate the August 29 International Day Against Nuclear Tests.

“The purpose of the day is two-fold – first, to pay tribute to the victims of nuclear tests, and second, to raise awareness of the continued threat that such tests pose to the environment and international security,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his address to the session.

The UN unanimously adopted in 2009 the date of August 29 as the annual International Day against Nuclear Tests. The UN resolution was approved at the urging of Kazakhstan’s First President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The date commemorates the day in 1991 when Nazarbayev, with the support of the Kazakh people, shut down the Soviet-era Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site. The Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test there August 29, 1949, proceeding to carry out more than 450 nuclear weapons tests at the site, contaminating a very large area with radiation. The tests also affected more than 1.5 million Kazakhs who have suffered early death, lifelong debilitating illnesses and horrific birth defects, which continue to this day.

Secretary-General Gutierrez went on to say that the scourge of nuclear weapons testing has affected many beyond just the country whose historic actions to end the testing are commemorated by the August 29 date.

Gutierrez noted the tests have damaged people and environments around the world, including in the South Pacific, North America and North Africa.

“It is not acceptable to destroy and contaminate the environment. It is not acceptable for local populations to suffer from radioactive fallout and other nuclear byproducts,” he said. “This day is a reminder of our moral obligation to ensure a legally-binding prohibition on nuclear weapons. At the same time, we also acknowledge significant progress in banning nuclear tests.”

Gutierrez noted that the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is among the most widely supported multilateral treaties, with 184 state signatures and 168 ratifications.

He also said the treaty’s testing verification system, the International Monitoring System, has contributed to global peace and security, he said.

Gutierrez noted, however, that 16 more states must ratify the treaty before it will enter into force.

“I want to use this opportunity to once again call upon all States to sign and ratify the CTBT without further delay, and for those remaining eight States to do so with a sense of urgency,” he said referring to the eight countries listed in Annex 2 of the treaty whose signature and ratification are mandatory for its entry into force. These are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States. “Let us together make the most of this occasion to renew our commitment to outlaw all nuclear tests, for all time in all places.”