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Bringing ICAN to Syria

ICAN Syria's regional campaigner Ghassan Shahrour commenced work with ICAN in 2012 – taking his lifelong work as an activist in the Middle East to embrace the challenge of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

Dr Shahrour has dedicated his entire adult life to helping the vulnerable and marginalized. Studying medicine in his youth, he began volunteering in refugee camps in his homeland of Syria. The experience brought him into contact with disabled children, sowing the seeds of a life’s work that saw him found a community organization for the disabled, with a focus on rehabilitation, education and outreach.

Through this work, Dr Shahrour also discovered first-hand the brutality of war and its harrowing effects on refugee communities. “I have seen the ugly face of war and its dangerous human, health, social and environmental impacts on people,” he says. “I have seen the ugly face of weapons in general and indiscriminate ones in particular.”

What he saw motivated Dr Shahrour to join the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Cluster Munition Coalition, and other disarmament, survival assistance and development organizations. He also organized a series of conferences on disarmament and human security.

Dr Shahrour became involved in ICAN with a desire to “protect the future of humanity”. “The possession of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world constitutes a threat to people everywhere,” he says. He sees the enormous sums of money spent on maintaining the world’s inventory of nuclear arms – estimated by Global Zero at US$104.9 billion in 2011 alone – as an unjustifiable waste of resources.

“The cost of development and maintenance of nuclear weapons, if properly invested for the people of the world, could help achieve the Millennium Development Goals [and] ensure sustainable development,” he says. Dr Shahrour sees his concerns reflected in the views of the communities he serves. “As a community worker on the ground, I know exactly what people need for their health, education, social services, and safety and security.”

Dr Shahrour is a passionate advocate for a comprehensive global nuclear weapons ban treaty. He says that realizing his vision for a more peaceful, stable, nuclear-free world must begin with people like him. “We need well-organized, knowledgeable, trained and dynamic campaigners to maximize the use of media to deliver clearly and strongly ICAN’s messages and goals.”

Dr Shahrour says that he and his fellow campaigners have an important role to play in promoting the establishment of a group of major states sharing the same disarmament vision as ICAN. “We must also help to educate the public that a world free of nuclear weapons is necessary, feasible and urgent, not only to protect civilians and innocent people, as with the mine ban treaty and cluster munitions convention, but also to protect the present and future of humankind.

“We must take strong action against any state that violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or states that expand their nuclear weapons arsenal. It is important to stigmatize the possession and development of nuclear weapons.”

Finally, Dr Shahrour calls on campaigners to pressure governments to make nuclear weapons a “hot, urgent issue”. This, he says, is the best path to opening negotiations on a comprehensive convention for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

In 2009, Dr Shahrour’s life-long work in support of banning antipersonnel mines and cluster munitions, as well as supporting people with disabilities to enjoy their full rights, was recognized when he received the International Star of Hope Award from the Centro Integral de Rehabilitación de Colombia (CIREC) and the Vice-President’s Office of Colombia.

However, despite growing recognition, Dr Shahrour’s work is never done, and has been made even more difficult by the civil unrest that has struck Syria since early 2011. “The circumstances in Syria have limited our activities,” he concedes. “But we are still able to distribute some education materials on health, and women’s and children’s rights.”

Since 2011, Dr Shahrour has coordinated the newly established Arab Human Security Network. This new organization aims to promote the knowledge and skills of civil society on human security issues, including disarmament, women’s rights, health and education.

By Matt Cropper

18 July 2012