Nuclear lawsuit testimony ends

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 International Court of Justice (ICJ) wrapped up oral arguments last Wednesday in the preliminary phase of the nuclear disarmament cases brought by the Marshall Islands against India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom.

The hearings, which took place at the ICJ from 7-16 March, were the first contentious cases on nuclear disarmament ever heard at the Court.

This set of hearings addressed the respondent nations’ objections to the cases relating to questions of jurisdiction and admissibility.

Tony deBrum, Co-Agent and former Foreign Minister of the RMI, recounted to the Court the Marshall Islands’ unique perspective about the effects of nuclear weapons due to 67 US nuclear weapons tests conducted in the Marshall Islands from 1946-58.

“Yesterday was a beautiful morning here in The Hague that featured a picture-perfect snowfall,” deBrum told the panel of ICJ judges. “As a tropical state, the Marshall Islands has experienced ‘snow’ on one memorable and devastating occasion, the 1954 Bravo test of a thermonuclear bomb that was one thousand times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb. When that explosion occurred, there were many people, including children, who were a far distance from the bomb, on our atolls which, according to leading scientists and assurances, were predicted to be entirely safe. In reality, within five hours of the explosion, it began to rain radioactive fallout at Rongelap. Within hours, the atoll was covered with a fine, white, powdered-like substance. No one knew it was radioactive fallout.  The children thought it was snow. And the children played in the snow. And they ate it.”

The Marshall Islands was clear that while their history with nuclear testing gives context to their current actions for global nuclear disarmament, the cases at the ICJ relate specifically to nuclear-armed states’ breaches of Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and customary international law.

Read more about this in the March 25, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.

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