NZers celebrate anti-nuclear weapon win

  • 09/07/2016
Atom image

People in Christchurch have reflected on how "a little peace group" in their city defied the world's most powerful nations to win a court case that triggered cuts in the world's nuclear arsenal.

Events were held in Christchurch on Friday to mark 20 years since a historic judgment by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ruling that the threat, let alone the use, of nuclear weapons was generally illegal.

Its decision was sparked by the World Court Project, an international campaign pioneered by New Zealanders.

Professor Paul Millar sums it up as an "important piece of history no one knows about".

Since then the number of nuclear weapons globally has fallen to 15,000 from 70,000.

It's a story of how "citizen pressure" can change what politicians do, Dr Millar says.

Dr Kate Dewes was a housewife, a mother and a music teacher who went to a talk about peace and decided to do something.

"Kate and others were excited by the possibility and began the World Court Project and it led ultimately to this decision," Prof Millar says.

As Dr Dewes recalls, 1986 was an interesting time in New Zealand.

The nuclear-free debate was at its height and New Zealand was dealing with an ANZUS impasse with the US over its nuclear-free stance.

Dr Dewes says retired judge Harold Evans wanted to take the US to the ICJ.

The idea didn't get far but the group decided to try to get an advisory opinion from ICJ on the question of the legality of the threat and use of nuclear weapons.

It took ten years and it was the biggest case ever at the court.

The group's offices were broken into, faxes didn't get through and incredible pressure was put on New Zealand politicians.

"I've written my PhD thesis on how we did it," Dr Dewes said.

Dr Dewes was working part-time and was a solo mother for part of the time the campaign covered.

"Other women came and looked after my children and people would hand me a five dollar note to help me get the airfare to get to the UN.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Jim Bolger, two former New Zealand prime ministers from New Zealand's two main politics parties were among the speakers on Friday.

Dr Dewes said it was important to work with politicians and diplomats, and to have dialogue to achieve change.

Her key message has relevance to the global issues of today.

"I think everybody has a power to help change the world. If we work collectively together we can change it and we can move things in a different way.

"Everyone has that power and can do it by sitting around ordinary kitchen tables," she said.