Commending the Honorable Tony A. De Brum of the Republic of the Marshall Islands

by Del. Eni F. H. Faleomavaega
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Del. Eni FaleomavaegaThis statement was entered into the U.S. Congressional Record on June 17, 2014.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commend my good friend, the Honorable Tony A. deBrum, who has served the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) with distinction and honor as Senator, Minister in Assistance to the President (Vice-President), Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Health and Environment, and in other notable capacities.

Senator Tony deBrum was born in 1945 and grew up on Likiep atoll at the height of the U.S. nuclear testing program in the RMI. From 1946-1958, the U.S. exploded 67 nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands and, in 1954, detonated the Bravo shot on Bikini atoll. Acknowledged as the greatest nuclear explosion ever detonated, the Bravo shot vaporized 6 islands and created a mushroom cloud 25 miles in diameter.

In his own words, the Honorable Tony deBrum, states:

“I am a nuclear witness and my memories from Likiep atoll in the northern Marshalls are strong. I lived there as a young boy for the entire 12 years of the nuclear testing program, and when I was 9 years old, I remember vividly the white flash of the Bravo detonation on Bikini atoll, 6 decades ago in 1954, and one thousand times more powerful than Hiroshima–an event that truly shocked the international community into action. It was in the morning, and my grandfather and I were out fishing. He was throwing net and I was carrying a basket behind him when Bravo went off. Unlike previous ones, Bravo went off with a very bright flash, almost a blinding flash; bear in mind we are almost 200 miles away from ground zero. No sound, just a flash and then a force, the shock wave. I like to describe it as if you are under a glass bowl and someone poured blood over it. Everything turned red: sky, the ocean, the fish, and my grandfather’s net. People in Rongelap nowadays claim they saw the sun rising from the West. I saw the sun rising from the middle of the sky, I mean I don’t even know what direction it came from but it just covered it, it was really scary. We lived in thatch houses at that time, my grandfather and I had our own thatch house and every gecko and animal that lived in the thatch fell dead not more than a couple of days after. The military came in, sent boats ashore to run us through Geiger counters and other stuff; everybody in the village was required to go through that.”

Shaped by what he witnessed, Tony deBrum determined to become an activist.

I think that’s the point that my brain was taught that. I did not consciously say at the time, I am going to now be a crusader. Just a few weeks after that, my grandfather and I went to Kwajalein, where they had evacuated the people of Rongelap, where they were staying in big large green tents being treated for their nuclear burns and exposure. All the while, incidentally, the United States government was announcing that everything was OK, that there was nothing to be worried about.

Unconvinced, Tony deBrum not only became one of the first Marshall Islanders to graduate from college but he worked for 17 years to negotiate his country’s independence from the United States. As an eyewitness to nuclear explosions, he also became one of the world’s leading advocates for nuclear disarmament calling upon the parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them. In 2012, Tony deBrum was awarded the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Distinguished Peace Leadership Award. Previous recipients include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, King Hussein of Jordan, and Jacques Cousteau.

In April 2014, the Republic of the Marshall Islands filed the Nuclear Zero Lawsuits–unprecedented lawsuits against all nine countries that possess nuclear weapons for their failure to negotiate in good faith for nuclear disarmament as required by the NPT. The landmark cases signed by RMI Foreign Minister Tony deBrum are now pending before the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the U.S. Federal District Court in San Francisco. As a Pacific Islander and as the Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, I applaud the RMI and especially Tony deBrum for taking a stand against the nuclear weapon giants. “No nation should ever suffer as we have,” Foreign Minister Tony deBrum has stated, and I agree.

I also agree that we should spur greater commitments in international climate change negotiations, and I commend Foreign Minister Tony deBrum for galvanizing more urgent and concrete action on climate change. As an architect of the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, Foreign Minister Tony deBrum has been unrelenting in vocalizing his concerns. In 2013, he addressed the United Nations Security Council on the threat posed by climate change to the long-term viability and survival of the Marshall Islands. During climate talks at the United Nations, he stated that “we are not just trying to save our islands, we are trying to save the entire world.”

I declare my sincere and heartfelt commitment to a nuclear-free world and a world committed to putting climate at the top of its diplomatic agenda. In so doing, I honor Tony deBrum as a leader, activist, friend and brother by placing his name and work in the Congressional Record for historical purposes.