Tunisia also has something to say!
By Amel El Mejri, Mariem Oueslati, Lobna Bachta, Sirine Barbirou, Aziza hanafi, Nour El Imen Gharbi, Oumayma Jabnouni
Our generation faces a host of urgent challenges which our parents and grand parents could never have imagined: climate crises, social crises, security and nuclear crises. Urgent action is needed on all fronts. However, there is one that, to us young Tunisians, seems the most vital: put an end to nuclear weapons!
Tunisians cannot imagine that their cities are nuclear targets. We have the good fortune to live in a country that does not possess nuclear weapons. As a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as the Pelindaba Treaty, which makes the continent of Africa a nuclear-free zone, Tunisia has shown itself to be a good actor on the international and African stages and in nuclear non-proliferation. (See Le Temps, La Tunisie un nouveau pas vers le désarmement nucléaire, 21 Septembre 2018).
Meanwhile, despite this asset, we are confronted with a reality: the revelation on June 17 by the prestigious SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) that almost 2,000 nuclear weapons are in a permanent state of readiness to be used by the United States, Russia, France or even the United Kingdom. The other states (like China, Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea) need only a few hours to prepare before using theirs.
This reality translates into the risk of detonation of nuclear weapons somewhere in the world — whether accidental, voluntary or by mistake. But it doesn’t matter whether this happens to our European neighbors, in Asia or even in the United States; we will all suffer the humanitarian, climatic, security and economic consequences. And then all of society will be forever changed! This is a reality and not “a view of the spirit” as the Red Cross emphasizes.
So what can we Tunisians do? What can our government do in the face of these nuclear powers?
Some of us young Tunisians were able to join ICAN (the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons, winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize), at the third NPT PrepCom, which took place at the UN headquarters in New York, April 28 – May 10. This conference was essential for the future of the NPT, which has also been called the cornerstone of non-proliferation. Indeed, we were able to meet, listen to and dialogue with diplomats from all continents and we had the honor of meeting the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We are proud to see that our state has significant power because it is part of what is known as the African Group, which comprises 54 states on the continent. We are united even more by the force of our ideas, as was affirmed during the discussions held in the name of this Group, which “supports the principle of complete nuclear disarmament” and “in this spirit welcomes the adoption of the historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, on July 7, 2017.” The Group “emphasizes that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) does not threaten the NPT, but rather it completes and reinforces the nuclear non-proliferation regime” and “exhorts all states to support the TPNW and to sign and ratify the Treaty as soon as possible.”
The TPNW was adopted on July 7, 2017 by a majority of the UN countries, including Tunisia. It finally makes nuclear weapons totally illegal. It was the missing piece of the international legal puzzle giving these weapons a status as weapons of mass destruction and not as prestige weapons.
For us non-nuclear states, our only solution, our only weapon is to make sure this law is applied. It is the one and only way we can confront the threat that hangs over us constantly.
Consequently, despite the fact that Tunisia is a signatory to the African Group declaration and committed to disarmament, we are sorry to see that it has not yet signed and thereby implemented the ratification process of the TPNW. This delay in signing is incomprehensible given the actions of our diplomats these last few years (participation in the humanitarian conferences), of this recent speech and, finally, the positive words exchanged at the UN with a diplomat from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Waiting and doing nothing is the worst of solutions. Believing that our voice doesn’t count in this 21st century world is to reduce our culture and our history to nothing. We urge our government to act immediately to protect our land, our generations and to sign the Treaty to ban nuclear weapons.
First published in French “La Dénucléarisation du monde ? La Tunisie a aussi son mot à dire !” on the Huffington Post Maghreb, June 21, 2019. English translation by Linda Pentz Gunter. The French version also appears on the Beyond Nuclear International website.
Headline photo: Left to right: Mariem Oueslati, Jean-Marie Collin of ICAN France, Amel El Mejri and Sirine Barbirou, meet with Latifa Habbechi, Chairperson of the Foreign Relations Committee of the House of Representatives of Tunisia, during an advocacy action after a forum on the Huffington Post Maghreb. Courtesy Amel El Mejri Twitter page.
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