The Arms Control Association announced today that The Republic of the Marshall Islands and its former Foreign Minister Tony de Brum, were voted as the “2016 Arms Control Person of the Year.” Over 1,850 individuals from 63 countries voted on a list of ten individuals and organizations nominated for the award, all of whom took exceptional leadership in 2016 for disarmament and arms control.
Marshall Islands and the cases before the International Court of Justice
The Marshall Islands was instrumental in the success of the 1995 case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The Marshall Islands testimony on the impact of nuclear tests led the ICJ to conclude that ‘the destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in time or space.‘
Then as Foreign Minister in 2014, Tony de Brum initiated lawsuits in a U.S. Federal Court against the United States, and in the International Court of Justice against the nine nuclear armed States in an attempt to compel them to implement their obligation to achieve complete nuclear disarmament. Over 5 million people signed a petition endorsing these cases. See Nuclear Zero lawsuits.
Mr de Brum also serves on the Council of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, through which he has helped inform and engage parliamentarians around the world on nuclear disarmament issues.
“The nomination of the Marshall Islands and Ambassador de Brum and the many votes they received reflects the concern and frustration expressed by many non-nuclear weapon states about the unacceptable consequences of nuclear weapons use, the slow pace of nuclear disarmament, and the growing risks of renewed global nuclear competition” noted Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction at the Arms Control Association.
In October, the 16-member court issued their rulings which upheld the arguments of the nuclear states that the Court lacked jurisdiction in the cases. Despite the court decisions, representatives of the Marshall Islands said the cases brought the frustratingly slow pace of disarmament negotiations to the world’s attention.
“The Marshall Islands’ bringing of these cases in and of itself is significant because it squarely challenged the nine nuclear states to comply with the legal obligation to pursue and conclude negotiations on nuclear disarmament,” says John Burroughs, a member of the Marshall Islands’ legal team and the executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy.
See also IALANA Statement on the Dismissal of the Marshall Islands’ Nuclear Disarmament Cases by the International Court of Justice, December 2016
Nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands
The catastrophic impact of nuclear testing on the health and environment of the Marshall Islands led Mr de Brum to dedicate his life to nuclear abolition.
At age nine, Tony de Brum witnessed the greatest-ever hellfire ignited by the USA, the Castle Bravo Bomb, a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb and detonated in 1954.
“It was in the morning and I was fishing with my grandfather. He was throwing the net and suddenly the silent bright flash – and then a force, the shock wave. Everything turned red – the ocean, the fish, the sky, and my grandfather’s net. And we were 200 miles away from ground zero. A memory that can never be erased.”
Nuclear disarmament and climate change
Mr de Brum has also been instrumental in making the links between nuclear weapons and climate change – both existential issues which have made many Marshall Islanders nuclear and climate change refugees – see Bikini Atoll islanders forced into exile after nuclear tests, now find new homes under threat from climate change.
As such, Mr de Brum has been an effective leading member of the Alliance of Small Island States in the Climate Change negotiations. The Alliance was recognised by President Obama as highlighting the reality that climate change is already impacting on peoples around the world. See Obama Says He’s an ‘Island Boy’ in Climate Meeting With Small Island Leaders.