Abolition 2000 – Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

Tony de Brum, Foriegn Minister of the Marshall Islands

April 24, 2014

The Republic of the Marshall Islands today filed lawsuits in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the nine nuclear-armed states holding them accountable for flagrant violations of international law with respect to their nuclear disarmament obligations. The Marshall Islands, which was used for 12 years as a testing ground for nuclear bombs by the United States, says the five original nuclear weapon states – U.S., Russia, UK, France and China – are continuously breaching their legal obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The lawsuits also contend that all nine nuclear-armed nations are violating customary international law.

“The nuclear armed States have an obligation – affirmed by the International Court of Justice in a 1996 Advisory Opinion – to achieve the complete elimination of nuclear weapons under strict and effective international control’, says Alyn Ware, Consultant for the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and the United Nations Coordinator for the World Court Project which launched the 1996 ICJ Advisory Opinion. “They have flagrantly violated this obligation by not even commencing the required negotiations.”

Anti-nuclear campaigners greet the New Zealand Attorney-General at the International Court of Justice 1995 hearings on nuclear weapons

The Marshall Islands was one of the leading countries arguing against nuclear weapons in the 1996 ICJ Advisory Opinion, along with a number of other countries including Australia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Qatar, Samoa, San Marino and the Solomon Islands.  Based on testimony placed before the ICJ in 1996 by the World Health Organisation, the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Marshall Islands and others, the ICJ stated that the destructive effects of nuclear weapons could not be contained in time or space, and that the threat or use of nuclear weapons was thus generally illegal under international law applicable in wartime including international humanitarian law.

In a press release announcing the lodging of the lawsuits against the nuclear-armed states today, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum said “Our people have suffered the catastrophic and irreparable damage of these weapons, and we vow to fight so that no one else on earth will ever again experience these atrocities. The continued existence of nuclear weapons and the terrible risk they pose to the world threaten us all.”

The press release notes that three of the nine states, the UK, India, and Pakistan, have accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the World Court when the opposing state equally has done so, as has the Marshall Islands. As to the other six states, the Marshall Islands is calling on them to accept the jurisdiction of the Court for this particular case and explain to the Court their positions regarding the nuclear disarmament obligations.

“The failure of these nuclear-armed countries to uphold important commitments and respect the law makes the world a more dangerous place,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a vocal backer of the lawsuits. “We must ask why these leaders continue to break their promises and put their citizens and the world at risk of horrific devastation. This is one of the most fundamental moral and legal questions of our time.”

“The nuclear-armed states continue to peddle the myth that they are committed to multilateral disarmament initiatives, while squandering billions to modernise their nuclear arsenals,” said Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. “The UK government’s plans to replace Trident make a mockery of its professed belief in multilateral frameworks – and now in addition to huge public opposition in the UK, it will also face an international legal challenge to expose its hypocrisy.” (See Marshall Islands sues nine nuclear powers over failure to disarm, The Guardian).

The lawsuits filed today in the International Court of Justice in The Hague are accompanied by a related lawsuit brought in U.S. Federal District Court in San Francisco against the United States.

For further information contact: Shineh Rhee Phone: 646-477-5790 Email: srhee@fenton.com