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The Marshall Islands Sue All Nuclear Nations

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For Violations Of The NPT's Article VI

By John Scales Avery *

One can gain a small idea of the terrible ecological consequences of a nuclear war by thinking of the radioactive contamination that has made large areas near to Chernobyl and Fukushima uninhabitable, or the testing of hydrogen bombs in the Pacific, which continues to cause leukemia and birth defects in the Marshall Islands more than half a century later.

In 1954, the United States tested a hydrogen bomb at Bikini. The bomb was 1,300 times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fallout from the bomb contaminated the island of Rongelap, one of the Marshall Islands 120 kilometers from Bikini. The islanders experienced radiation illness, and many died from cancer.

Even today, half a century later, both people and animals on Rongelap and other nearby islands suffer from birth defects. The most common defects have been “jelly fish babies”, born with no bones and with transparent skin. Their brains and beating hearts can be seen. The babies usually live a day or two before they stop breathing.

A girl from Rongelap describes the situation in the following words: “I cannot have children. I have had miscarriages on seven occasions... Our culture and religion teach us that reproductive abnormalities are a sign that women have been unfaithful. For this reason, many of my friends keep quiet about the strange births that they have had. In privacy they give birth, not to children as we like to think of them, but to things we could only describe as 'octopuses', 'apples', 'turtles' and other things in our experience. We do not have Marshallese words for these kinds of babies, because they were never born before the radiation came.”

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is suing the nine countries with nuclear weapons at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, arguing they have violated their legal obligation to disarm.

The Guardian reports that “In the unprecedented legal action, comprising nine separate cases brought before the ICJ on Thursday, the Republic of the Marshall Islands accuses the nuclear weapons states of a `flagrant denial of human justice'. It argues it is justified in taking the action because of the harm it suffered as a result of the nuclear arms race.”

“The Pacific chain of islands, including Bikini Atoll and Enewetak, was the site of 67 nuclear tests from 1946 to 1958, including the 'Bravo shot', a 15-megaton device equivalent to a thousand Hiroshima blasts, detonated in 1954. The Marshallese islanders say they have been suffering serious health and environmental effects ever since.”

“The island republic is suing the five `established' nuclear weapons states recognised in the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) ¨C the US, Russia (which inherited the Soviet arsenal), China, France and the UK, as well as the three countries outside the NPT who have declared nuclear arsenals ¨C India, Pakistan and North Korea, and the one undeclared nuclear weapons state, Israel.”

On July 21, 2014, the United States filed a motion to dismiss the Nuclear Zero lawsuit that was filed by the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) on April 24, 2014 in U.S. Federal Court. The U.S., in its move to dismiss the RMI lawsuit, does not argue that the U.S. is in compliance with its NPT disarmament obligations. Instead, it argues in a variety of ways that its non-compliance with these obligations is, essentially, justifiable, and not subject to the court's jurisdiction.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) is a consultant to the Marshall Islands on the legal and moral issues involved in bringing this case. David Krieger, President of NAPF, upon hearing of the motion to dismiss the case by the U.S. responded, “The U.S. government is sending a terrible message to the world ¨C that is, that U.S. courts are an improper venue for resolving disputes with other countries on U.S. treaty obligations. The U.S. is, in effect, saying that whatever breaches it commits are all right if it says so. That is bad for the law, bad for relations among nations, bad for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament - and not only bad, but extremely dangerous for U.S. citizens and all humanity.”

David Krieger continued, “In 2009, President Obama shared his vision for the world, saying, 'So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. This lawsuit provides the perfect opportunity for President Obama to move his vision forward. Yet, rather than seizing that opportunity, the U.S. government is seeking dismissal without a full and fair hearing on the merits of the case.”

Our only hope for the future is to replace brutal rule by military power by a just system of international law.

* John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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