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Ypres' centenary commemoration of first use of chemical weapons and
hosting of conference
Report from Mr. Sean Morris, Manchester, UK and Ireland Mayors for Peace Chapter Secretary
April 22-24, 2015
On April 22 - 24 Mayors for Peace Vice President Ypres and the Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign held a three day conference and important ceremonies for the centenary of the first use of chemical weapons in the Ypres Salient on 22 April 1915.
Ypres was on the frontline of fighting during the First World War, and on 22 April 1915 chlorine canisters were thrown over the front line for the first time, killing many soldiers. Over the course of the war over 90,000 soldiers were killed by chemical weapons. On 22 April 2015 Ypres formally remembered these events with a thre day conference called 'A Century of Weaponry of Mass Destruction: Enough!'
On the first day of the conference opened by the Mayors of Ypres and Langemark, keynote speakers included the Ambassadors of Germany and France to Belgium, the Tunisian Defence Minister, Tibor Toth, former Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), and leading figures from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Delegates were then taken to two national commemorative events at the Cross of the Resurrection and the Statue of the Brooding Soldier, in moving ceremonies led by the King of Belgium. The final ceremony was held at the Menin Gate in Ypres with its famous Last Post Ceremony to an audience of over 5,000 people and the Ambassadors of the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Russia, United States, Australia and New Zealand.
The rest of the conference focused on the effects of chemical weapons and the impact on civilian populations of weapons of mass destruction. The Secretary General of Mayors for Peace outlined the destruction of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb and there was a video message from the Peace Boat of its joint 'I was her age' global voyage with Mayors for Peace. There were also moving and powerful presentations by representatives from Halabja, Granollers, Hamburg, Volgograd and Gaza. A special message of support was read out from the UN Secretary General and delegates agreed a 'Ypres Declaration' calling for an end to the military targeting of cities. Delegates were also provided with a tour of the Ypres Flanders Fields Museum and a tour of the 'Making Peace' exhibition, which is on the Ypres Ramparts until September. The Conference concluded with delegates taking part in the 'Global Wave' activity to symbolically wave goodbye to nuclear weapons.
A meeting of the 2020 Vision Campaign Board was held with representatives from Ypres, Manchester, Halabja, Biograd na Moru, Granollers and Malakoff. The recommendations from this meeting will be considered at the Mayors for Peace Executive Conference in Ypres in November.