Nuclear lawsuits move forward

Dutch attorney Phon van den Biesen, RMI UN Mission Chargé Deborah Barker-Manase, and Tony deBrum at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday. Photo: UN Photo/ICJ-CIJ/Frank van Beek.
Dutch attorney Phon van den Biesen, RMI UN Mission Chargé Deborah Barker-Manase, and Tony deBrum at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday. Photo: UN Photo/ICJ-CIJ/Frank van Beek.

The Marshall Islands gained global headlines this week as the government’s cases against India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom were launched at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

In addition to Dutch attorney Phon van den Biesen representing the RMI government before the court, former Foreign Minister Tony deBrum spoke to the court, and RMI UN Mission Chargé Deborah Barker-Manase observed for the government.

These unprecedented lawsuits were submitted by the RMI to the International Court of Justice on April 24, 2014,” said Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which is supporting the suits. “They aim to hold the nine nuclear-armed states (US, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) accountable for violating international law by failing to respect their nuclear disarmament obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and customary international law.”

The hearings this week and next are for the RMI, UK, India and Pakistan to present their arguments for and against the ICJ having jurisdiction to hear the RMI’s cases. The RMI is presenting its case this week, with India and UK’s responses expected next week. Pakistan is reportedly boycotting the court hearings. The ICJ must determine if it has jurisdiction to hear the RMI’s cases.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs dispatched Barker-Manase from New York to “observe the proceedings and feed back information to us,” said Foreign Minister John Silk Wednesday. Silk added that before this time, “no one knew what was happening (with the suits).”

He also said a legal opinion on the lawsuits has now been produced by the RMI Attorney General’s office, and Silk was planning to review the document with the Cabinet Wednesday afternoon this week.

In briefing papers filed with the ICJ, India questioned the basis of RMI’s claims against India, saying India has shown greater resolve in supporting negotiations to end nuclear weapons. “It is revealing that for ten years (2003-2012) prior to the RMI contemplating this recourse to the ICJ, while India consistently voted for and sponsored (a UN) resolution (calling for international negotiations to ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons), the RMI voted against the resolution or abstained nine times and voted in favor only once,” said India. “This shows not only the inconsistency of the RMI’s belief in multilateral negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament but also the artificiality of its claim in this case.”

“From a legal perspective, the issues presented by these cases are ordinary ones, but a positive outcome will, spectacularly, change the world,” said van den Biesen. “We are asking the Court to tell the respondent states to live up to their obligations under international law and to conduct negotiations leading to the required result: nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.”

Of the nine suits originally filed, only the cases against India, Pakistan and the UK are proceeding. This is because these are the only three countries that have “made a commitment to respond to suits brought at the ICJ.”

Read more about this in the March 11, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.

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