On April 24, 2014, just over a year ago, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) brought lawsuits against the nine nuclear-armed countries in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and separately against the United States in US Federal District Court. The RMI argues that the five nuclear-armed parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which are the US, Russia, UK, France and China, are not meeting their obligations under Article VI of the treaty to negotiate in good faith for complete nuclear disarmament. The RMI further argues that the other four nuclear-armed countries not parties to the NPT, which are Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea, have the same obligations under customary international law.
In the ICJ, cases go forward only against countries that accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the court, unless they consent to jurisdiction. Since only the UK, India and Pakistan accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the court, cases are limited to these three countries. The US, Russia, France, China, Israel and North Korean were invited to have their cases heard at the ICJ. China declined and the other countries did not respond.
In the US case in Federal District Court, the judge dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds on February 3, 2015. On April 2, 2015, the RMI filed a Notice of Appeal in the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Tony de Brum, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, stated, “We are in this for the long haul. We remain steadfast in our belief that nuclear weapons benefit no one and that what is right for humankind will prevail. We place great importance in and hold high respect for the American judicial process and will pursue justice in that spirit, using every available legal avenue to see that Nuclear Zero is achieved in my lifetime.”
These are important lawsuits. They have been described as a battle of David versus the nine nuclear Goliaths. In this case, however, David (the RMI) is using the nonviolent means of the courtroom and the law rather than a slingshot and a rock. It is worth considering what these lawsuits seek to accomplish.
These are high aspirations from a small but courageous country. If you would like to know more about the Marshall Islands Nuclear Zero lawsuits, and how you can help support them, visit www.nuclearzero.org.
David Krieger is a founder and President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and a consultant to the Marshall Islands in the Nuclear Zero lawsuits.