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From Soviet Crimes Against Humanity Emerges a Global Movement to Abolish Nuclear Testing and Weapons

By Ahmed Fathi

Kazakhstan: Ground zero near Kurchatov in East Kazakhstan, the first Soviet nuclear weapons test was carried out on this vast and featureless step just 100 miles from Semipalatinsk on August 29th, 1949. It remains an epic center of the Cold War for the former Soviet Union and 456 nuclear weapons were detonated at the testing site until 1989. The destructive power of the blast left a dark legacy for the local people including cancer and birth defects, the residents of the region continue to suffer until today.

Nearly 116 nuclear tests conducted above the ground and 340 tests under the ground, spreading nuclear fallout far wider than the test zone itself that means a nuclear bomb explosion once every month in an area roughly the size of Belgium or the state of Maryland.

Prior to 1990 the testing site in Semipalatinsk was one of the numerous closed cities of the Soviet Union. Only high-ranking officials of the politburo knew about the going-ons within these cities, as for Kurchatov and the Polygon they were considered secret cities that needed special permit from the Soviet military and did not even exist on maps.

Living on that land thousands of people all exposed often to extremely high level of radiation, people told to keep their windows open as the Soviet authority measured people’s reactions. Nearly 30 years later they are still living with the effects; cancer, miscarriages, malformation and infertility, today nearly one and a half million people have been recognized by the Kazakhstan authorities as effected by nuclear testing. Today the cancer rate in Eastern Kazakhstan is 2-3 times higher than the national average.

During the times where nuclear explosions were taking place the Soviets asked the residents to stay in place with no warnings whatsoever about the impact of radiation in order for them to study their effects.

The Soviet Union leadership has delibrately committed a fully fledged crimes against humanity against the people of Kazakhstan for a long period of time through the different leaders from Joseph Stalin down to Mikhail Gorbachev that never faced any consequences due to the fall and the dissolution of the USSR.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Semipalatinsk was shut down on August 29, 1991 (now commemorated as ‘International Day against Nuclear Tests”) and Kazakhstan First President Nursultan Nazarbayev made a historical decision to voluntarily gave away its nuclear arsenal.

Kazakhstan today is the global leader in the struggle for nuclear disarmament and ban on nuclear testing. Its First President after independence, Nursultan Nazarbayev launched the ATOM (Abolish Testing. Our mission) Project in 2012.

In 2016 The “Nazarbayev Prize for a world without nuclear weapons and global security” was established. The first laureate of the Prize was King Abdullah II of Jordan for his contribution to promoting the creation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East and the acceptance of 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

The "Nazarbayev Prize for a world without nuclear weapons and global security" ceremony is carried out in logical conjunction with the historic decision of the First President of Kazakhstan close the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site.

The closure day of the nuclear test site (August 29) is of particular importance for the entire international community - on the initiative of Kazakhstan, this day was declared by the UN General Assembly as the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

This year the Prize laureates were Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) Preparatory Commission, and in Posthumously former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano.

With the laureate of the Nazarbayev Prize for Nuclear Free World and Global Security Lassina Zerbo the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization and Nargiz Shekinskaya of the UN Global Communications Division

Yukiya Amano passed away on July 18, 2019. To receive the Prize, members of his family arrived in Kazakhstan - widow Yukika Amano and brother, former Permanent Representative of Japan in Geneva, Marie Amano.

With Mrs. Amano the widow of late Yukiya Amano the Director of the IAEA who received this year in posthumous the Nazarbayev Prize for Nuclear Free World and Global Security at the Nazarbayev Center in Nur Sultan Kazakhstan.

The First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev noted the special contribution of the late Director General Yukika .Amano to the achievement of the IAEA’s main goals and the high level of cooperation of the Agency with Kazakhstan, and also emphasized the efforts of the Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo to strengthen the verification regime and establish the CTBT International Monitoring Network.

The ceremony was attended by prominent figures, such as the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, member of the Prize Award Committee Franco Frattini, the IAEA Deputy Director General Mary Alice Heyward, former Director General of the OPCW Ahmet Uzumcu, Deputy Chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative Foundation, former UK Secretary of Defense Desmond Brown, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang, and co-chairman of the International Peace Bureau Reiner Brown.

The participants of the event noted the importance and relevance of the Prize, the key role of the First President of Kazakhstan achievements in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation, his activities as a world-class political figure who is pleased not only for the interests of his country, but also the entire world community, as well as an invaluable contribution to strengthening the regional and international security.

*Ilaria Maroni contributed to this report from New York

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