Young people lead the way in the fight to abolish nuclear weapons

In October 2016, the very first International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Youth Academy took place in Paris, France. The event, held between 20 and 23 October, was organised and hosted by ICAN France, with more than 60 people between the ages of 18 to 30 from across Europe in attendance.

Silene Theobald, the Project Manager of ICAN France, told the IPF that the purpose of this four-day event was to enthuse young people about the cause. She hoped that the event would encourage young participants to go back to their country and fight for the abolition of nuclear weapons – and continue to inspire other young people to do the same.

“Inspiration was the intend outcome of the ICAN Youth Academy. We wanted people to learn about nuclear weapons and debate about it with various speakers, but most importantly, we wanted them to be inspired by each other.”

The ICAN Youth Academy came just days before the historic vote by the UN General Assembly’s Disarmament and Security Committee to start negotiations on a treaty on nuclear disarmament. The resolution aims to start negotiations in March 2017.

Silene said: “Between now and then we are going to try to make people as informed as possible about what is happening at the international level, and the possibility of a prohibition of nuclear weapons in a very near future.”

Silene herself was inspired to create a youth movement around nuclear disarmament after participating in a seminar in Berlin, Germany. She believes that young people are fundamental in the upcoming campaign on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.

“As the younger generation, we still have 70-80 more years on this planet. We will have brought children and grandchildren into this world. We are the ones who still have decades of voting choices to make.”

The team behind the ICAN Youth Academy invited not only activists, but also politicians and researchers. This included those who believe in nuclear deterrence, as well as those who advocate for disarmament. According to Silene, this “offered the space for a balanced debate, providing the participants with all points of view and the chance to hear every argument”.

Nikola Jelikic, a Serbian participant who was already involved in ICAN campaigning before attending the academy, believes that it is important to “spread the goal of banning nuclear weapons and raising awareness”.

The 22-year-old said:

“It was really good on the education part since we had amazing speakers. On the other hand we had time to sight-see and socialise, which is important because we need to create good network.”

This was a feeling echoed by fellow participant Elise Maarschalkerweerd from the Netherlands, who had not previously been involved in similar campaigns.

“The event has inspired me to raise more awareness on the importance of a global ban on nuclear weapons in the Netherlands, because it is about our future,” she said. “It’s our generation and those after us who will suffer from the potential consequences of nuclear weapons. We are a more global community than ever before and are experts on social media, which is a powerful tool to raise awareness on any topic.”

Finally, Silene concluded:

“To us, nuclear weapons are all about the future and the young people. It is very important to get young people informed about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the feasible solution of a ban treaty, and to get them involved in the campaign.”

To find out more about ICAN, visit their website, follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook.

First published: 12/11/2016 IPF {International Press Foundation)

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