Guest editorial: Another Perspective

By: Carlos Umaña Silesky, IPPNW Costa Rica

21:30 hrs. Just got a text from Charlene Roopnarine, Minister Counsellor of Trinidad and Tobago. She had been in meetings all day and had just gotten to the text I sent with proposals for the Trinidadian national statement on the nuclear weapons cluster. I hadn’t seen her all day, but had met her the day before, when she welcomed me at her mission and very enthusiastically accepted my offer for collaboration.

I had met Charlene the year before, when I worked for a full month at the NPT RevCon, as part of the Costa Rican delegation in the quality of expert, closely with Maritza Chan, Minister Counsellor in charge of disarmament in Costa Rica. It was thanks to Maritza’s influence, that I had Charlene’s trust from the very beginning. She welcomed my help, as she had her hands full with many other tasks, being now one of the senior staff members at her mission, charged with several other important tasks. Such is the case with small delegations, especially when they are committed to having a stronger participation: the commitment and work befalls on a very competent staff member. While large delegations have entire teams dedicated to nuclear disarmament, small delegations have one person dealing with this and other issues, and the country’s position and profile relies on their diligence. Last year I witnessed how Maritza, from Costa Rica, would attend several different meetings in one day, and often stayed up late drafting statements. I was quite pleased to be able to help out as an active member of the Costa Rican delegation during these times.

And this is precisely where we come in. Organized civil society works very well with delegations open to our contributions. We provide them with expertise, support and current knowledge. We remove some of the burden of time-consuming investigation and help them achieve their goals of standing out as relevant stakeholders while fulfilling our common goal of a world without nuclear weapons. But this collaboration is certainly not gratuitous. We have to earn their trust and gain their attention, and respect their boundaries and work at their rhythm. Moreover, delegations aren’t usually as welcoming or open as was the case with Charlene or Maritza, and this is somewhat understandable, as very busy people with important tasks don’t want yet another responsibility piling up (I sympathize much more with the plight of pharmaceutical sales reps now).

It was very gratifying when, thanks to Charlene, I met with Asha Challenger, representative of Antigua and Barbuda and coordinator for CARICOM in disarmament issues for this forum, and she was very grateful for the information I was able to provide. She understood about stigmatization through the experience with the Convention on Cluster Munitions, whereby the last factory in the United States was shut down recently without the US having even signed said convention. She was quick to grasp the need for CARICOM states to mobilize. During our very friendly conversations, we spoke on how a ban can be effective even without nuclear weapon states initially taking part. And perhaps even more so, for non-nuclear weapon states, the vast majority, are no longer passive bystanders and have risen as active stakeholders, with a voice and a vote. Democracy is about the number of supporters, not their size, and in the multilateral system, the vote of a small, underdeveloped nation worth as much as that of a large, powerful one. Democracy is about information, participation and inclusion, and this is precisely what has changed the decades-long deadlock and revolutionized this process (something that Costa Rica referred to last year as the democratization of nuclear disarmament). The Humanitarian Initiative, the Humanitarian Pledge and the OEWG showed us there is intention in the international community, and now, it appears the international community is ready to walk the walk.

The soon-to-be born ban treaty is a sign that stigmatization is growing, that prestige is no longer ascribed to those who possess destructive power, but rather to those who participate constructively in non-violent paths to solve conflicts. Hopefully, soon the international community will not refer to nuclear weapon states as “nuclear powers”, but as “nuclear liabilities”, in full understanding that possessing a single nuclear weapon threatens humanity as a whole, them included.

It is indeed an exciting time to be a part of this cause. It is inspiring to walk around what once was a somewhat intimidating room and see it filled with friendly faces, both in governments and civil society. It is refreshing to encounter so many people of good will, ready to put their expertise, time and effort at the service of procuring a better world, all standing, right now, at the edge of history.

Trinidad and Tobago, in partnership with ICAN, hosted a breakfast meeting with the delegates of Latin America and the Caribbean in New York, to discuss the region’s role in this very advanced process. As per ICAN’s Daniel Högsta, participation was good, as was the discussion. Quite significantly, a CARICOM state was taking the lead.*


Carlos at OEWG

Carlos is a General practitioner and visual artist, with studies in public health, clinical research, Obstetrics and gynecology, fine arts and art history. Founding member and current president of IPPNW Costa Rica and Artists for Peace, active member of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).


*CARICOM voted yes for the resolution and is now one of  the leading regions for a ban on nuclear weapons.