19 November 2012
"United, We Count"
Opening remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
“United, We Count”
Palais des Nations, Salle des Pas Perdus
Monday, 19 November 2012 at 6 p.m.
Excellency Mr. Saudabayev,
Ambassador Mr. Tileuberdi
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a pleasure to welcome you all this evening for the opening of this important exhibition. I wish to thank Ambassador Tileuberdi and the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan for the organization of this event in support of our collective efforts to promote sustainable peace and security across the world. I also welcome Mr. Kanat Saudabayev, former Secretary of State of Kazakhstan and currently Chairman of the State Commission for non-proliferation for this visit to the Palais des Nations.
Geneva is often referred to as the “disarmament capital of the world”. And it is true, Geneva is really a venue where until now all major disarmament issues are discussed. It is here that we work towards this goal together with our many partners – governments, regional organizations, civil society and academia. The Palais des Nations, home to the Conference on Disarmament, provides a multilateral forum to address our disarmament challenges, and I am pleased to showcase this exhibition for the international community here.
For me, this exhibition touches a personal note. I am proud that it was President of Kazakhstan Mr. Nursultan Nazarbeyev who signed a historic document on closing down the Semipalatinsk testing ground as early as 29 August 1991. Now, upon the initiative of my home country, this date, 29 August, has been proclaimed by the General Assembly of the UN as the International Day against Nuclear Tests and is celebrated under the auspices of the UN. The historic importance of the decree of Kazakhstan’s President is difficult to underestimate. It is a real and practical contribution to the nuclear disarmament, his commitment to this noble cause was duly recognized by the international community.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Kazakhstan became the scene of nuclear weapon tests. Before it was shut down in 1991, Semipalatinsk was the second largest nuclear weapons testing site in the world. Over 40 years starting on 29 August 1949, 456 nuclear tests of atomic and thermonuclear devices were conducted over there. Before concluding the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963, as many as 116 nuclear tests at this site were conducted on the surface and in the atmosphere.
According to local officials some hundreds of thousands of people lived in a few rural settlements scattered within 80 km radius of the site. Those tests had significant, negative consequences for the surrounding environment and the local population, including health issues, such as genetic defects and illnesses, the contamination of agricultural land and the underground water cycle and negative affects on the local economy.
This exhibition represents only a small part of the human and environmental damage caused by a legacy of decades of nuclear weapons tests around the world. With the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), negotiated here in Geneva, the number of nuclear tests conducted reduced dramatically. However, until the Treaty enters into force, these risks will not be completely eliminated and its ultimate goal of a nuclear-free world will be left unattained.
I commend the decision of Kazakhstan to join without any preconditions the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the CTBT and its adhesion to the Treaty of the Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons in Central Asia.
I also commend the efforts of the ATOM Project, and the Nazarbayev Center to bring awareness to the grave consequences of nuclear testing and to promote nuclear responsibility, disarmament and non-proliferation around the world. Mr. Kuyukov’s artwork will serve as a reminder to all who pass through these halls of our common quest for sustainable peace and security for all.
Thank you very much.