2012 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award Acceptance Speech

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2012 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award Acceptance Speech

Sen. Tony de Brum received the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Distinguished Peace Leadership Award on October 21, 2012.

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Tony de BrumIt is with profound gratitude and humility that I receive this coveted Distinguished Peace Leadership Award 2012. I wish to thank Nuclear Age Peace Foundation for the great honor.

I am aware that in receiving this award, I am following in the footsteps of some of the most gallant and respected notables of our century – among them, His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the late King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan, Jacques Cousteau, Walter Cronkite and many other distinguished champions of peace.

I am truly humbled to be following the lead of such exceptional human beings. With their contributions to world peace and harmony they have touched and influenced many of us gathered this evening and impacted the lives of many more around the world.

My life was deeply traumatized by the nuclear legacy of the United States in the Marshall Islands.  My public career has been shaped by the nuclear insult to my country and the Marshallese people. I have endeavored to make my modest contribution to peace by bringing their story to the world through all opportunities available to me.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

I have been a student of the horrific impacts of the nuclear weapons testing program for most of my life. I served as interpreter for American officials who proclaimed Bikini safe for resettlement and commenced a program to repatriate the Bikini people who for decades barely survived on the secluded island of Kili. I accompanied the American High Commissioner of the Trust Territory just two years later to once again remove the repatriated residents from Bikini because concentrations of strontium and cesium had exceeded safe limits and their exposure had become too high for the established US government’s health standards.

I was also personally involved in the translation of the Enewetak Environmental Impact Statement that declared Enewetak in the western Marshall Islands safe for resettlement.  In a television interview on CBS Sixty Minutes I expressed my concern to Morley Safer at the time by describing the military public relations efforts associated with the Enewetak clean-up as a dog-and-pony show.  Today, for the most part the atoll remains unsafe for human habitation.

Later, during negotiations to terminate the trust territory arrangement mandated by the United Nations and assigned to the United States, we discovered that certain scientific information regarding Enewetak was being withheld from us because, as the official US government memorandum stated, “the Marshallese negotiators might make overreaching demands” on the United States if the facts about the extent of damage in the islands were known to us.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

The Marshall Islands’ close encounter with the bomb did not end with the detonations themselves. In recent years, documents released by the United States government have uncovered even more horrific aspects of this burden borne by the Marshallese people in the name of international peace and security. US government documents prove in no uncertain terms that its scientists conducted human radiation experiments on Marshallese citizens and American servicemen assigned to our part of the world. Some of our people were injected with or coerced to imbibe fluids laced with radioactive substances. Other experimentation involved the purposeful and premature resettlement of people on islands highly contaminated by the weapons tests to study how human beings absorb radionuclides either from their foods or from their poisonous environment.

Much of this human experimentation occurred in populations either exposed to near lethal amounts of radiation, or to “control” populations who were told they would receive medical “ care” for participating in these studies to help their fellow citizens. At the conclusion of all these studies, the United States still maintained that no positive linkage could be established between the tests and the health status of the Marshallese. Just in the past few years, a National Cancers Institute study has predicted a substantively higher than expected incidence of cancer in the Marshall Islands resulting from the atomic tests.

Throughout the years, America’s nuclear history in the Marshall Islands has been colored with official denial, self-serving control of information, and abrogation of commitment to redress the shameful wrongs done to the Marshallese people. The scientists and military officials involved in the testing program picked and chose their study subjects, recognized certain communities as exposed when it served their interests, and denied monitoring and medicinal attention to subgroups within the Marshall Islands.

I remember well their visits to my village in Likiep where they subjected every one of us to tests and invasive physical examinations the United States government denied ever carrying out. In 1978 as a representative on the negotiations with the United States, we raised the issue requesting that raw data gathered during these visits be made available to us. United States representatives responded by saying that our recollections were juvenile and could not possibly reflect the realities of the time.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

While a resolution of the status question was eventually reached, the issue of damages and personal injury from the testing remain a matter of contention between our two countries to this day.  The unresolved aspect of the agreement remains the question of damages and personal injury claims yet to be addressed.  Attempts to resolve these outstanding issues through the Compact of Free Association between our two countries as well as through the United States court system have been unsuccessful.

The courts have invoked the statutes of limitation while the administration contends that the circumstances of the claims do not constitute provable differences from knowledge based on which the agreements in 1986 were reached.  We do not deny signing an agreement. We do admit though that this was based on information provided us by the United States contending that the damages were as they described in various studies presented to us to justify the adequacy of nuclear compensation and purported to describe in full the true damages caused by the tests.

In order to break this impasse we would require evidence which has been declared top secret by the United States to which the public has no access.  It is interesting to note that the United States has expressed strong interest to bring the nuclear issues with the Marshall Islands to closure.  We have responded that there can be no closure without full disclosure.

Further the United States Government tells us, our government is now responsible for nuclear claims, stemming from what is called the espousal provision of the Compact of Free Association. That basically says, we have settled all claims and should any new ones arise, the Government of the Marshall Islands will be responsible and liable. Ironically, the only other time in the history of the United States where ‘espousal’ was used to squelch claims was in the settlement to release the hostages in Iran.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

Last month in Geneva, the 21st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the Independent Special Rapporteur’s report, which in short, found that the US nuclear testing program in the Marshall Islands resulted in both immediate and continuing effects on the human rights of the Marshallese.  The adopted report also sets forth a set of far reaching recommendations, among them, under subparagraph (f); “Guarantee the right to effective remedy for the Marshallese people, including by providing full funding for the Nuclear Claims Tribunal to award adequate compensation for past and future claims, and exploring other forms of reparation, where appropriate, such as restitution, rehabilitation and measures of satisfaction; including, public apologies, public memorials and guarantees of non- repetition; and consider the establishment of a truth and reconciliation mechanism or similar alternative justice mechanisms.”

How far the United States government will act on these recommendations remains uncertain.  In spite of all that has occurred in this relationship, the American people will not find a better friend than the people of the Marshall Islands.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

I accept this high honor you bestow upon me this evening in the name of my country, my fellow citizens, and all who have in one way or another contributed to the understanding of the Marshallese nuclear plight.

I accept it on behalf of Lijon Aknelang and the Almira Matayoshi of Rongelap Atoll, who passed away recently but were never discouraged in their fight to find peace and justice. I dedicate it to the mothers of Rongelap whose shameful treatment by American scientists violated all acceptable norms of human decency and respect.  I accept it on behalf of Senator Jeton Anjain and his brother Mayor John Anjain, who exposed the dark secrets of the experimentation on the Rongelap people.  This honor I share with Mayor Anjain’s son, Lekoj Anjain who became the first recognized leukemia victim of nuclear tests. I accept this honor on behalf of the Marshallese Traditional Leaders, especially Iroijlaplap Jebro Kabua and Anjua Loeak, who made lands under their stewardship available for the humane resettlement of displace nuclear nomads.  I accept it on behalf of Marshallese community leaders who petitioned in vain to stop the tests through avenues known to them, both directly to the United States and to the United Nations. I accept on behalf of Senator Ishmael John of Enewetak who fought to his death to bring justice to the people of his home who to this day remain unable to resettle their ancestral lands and whose atoll continues to store nuclear wastes including plutonium.

I would be remiss if I did not include the many friends throughout the world who have contributed to our knowledge of the dangers of nuclear weapons and the clear and present danger they are to the universe as we know it. I accept it on behalf of all Marshallese whose lives have been directly or indirectly affected by the horrific effects of the nuclear test.  But most of all, dear friends, I accept on behalf of my granddaughter Zoe, who, as a brave young four year old, battled with leukemia for two very difficult years, and is now declared healthy enough to return to school and live a normal life.  For this I will always be thankful to God and His Mercy.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

For the use of our country in the maintenance of what is called an unquestionable military supremacy over the world, Kwajalein Atoll, which is my parliamentary constituency, has been tasked to bear the burden.  I therefore dedicate this honor to the people of Kwajalein whose continuing sacrifice of providing the home of their forefathers for the “preservation of international peace and security” continues to this day and for the next seventy-four years.

The Marshall Islands are by no means the only ones who have experienced a taste of nuclear horror.  The people of Hiroshima and Nakasaki, Kazakhstan, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and French Polynesia have had first-hand experience.  The 67 nuclear events in the Marshalls, equivalent to 1.7 Hiroshima shots every day for 12 years came complete with physical displacement, nuclear illness, birth anomalies, alienation of land, massive destruction of property, injury and death.  But perhaps the most hurtful of all was official denial and secretive cover up and refusal to accept responsibility on the part of the perpetrators.

The Marshall Islands were also subject to years of expensive clean up and rehabilitation of land and habitat which fell far short of restoring the lands and sites to any productive use.  In certain parts, repatriation will not be possible for at least 12,000 years. And that’s only from testing.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned is that any way you look at it, nuclear weapons and the horrific destruction they bring, whether in war or in experimentation, leave permanent and irreversible damage to man and nature. All things surrounding nuclear weaponry threaten life on our planet and perhaps even our universe. It is not good for men and women, boys and girls, and dogs and cats.  It is harmful to trees and to plants we eat.  It poisons fish and wildlife.  It makes our world less, not more, secure.

If the lessons of the end of World War II, and the lessons of all the tests conducted since then have not been learned then we must learn them.  If the experiences of laboratory exposure, also denied, are not part of our learning pathway, then they must be added.  If we do not take the message of nuclear survivors to heart, then we will have to soften our hearts.  Nuclear weapons threaten us, they do not protect us.  No matter where they are located or deployed, one push of a red button could be the end of life as we know it.  That is not a chance worth taking.

If we continue to imagine any kind of a benefit being derived from the fact that the atomic powers are now armed to the teeth, then the sacrifice of all we have cited in this brief message tonight will have been in vain.  Enlightened modern leaders of the world have not been blind to this fact of life.  It is just that they have yet to put the matter of the nuclear race to rest.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

Barely forty-eight hours ago we were in India at the 11th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity where 193 countries, both governments and non-government organizations, met to discuss the accelerated decline in the integrity of the environment and its genetic resources. Also debated were programs and efforts to address the unsustainable global development direction and the dangers that it poses to the world.

As in nuclear disarmament efforts, we have a situation where world leaders fully understand the problem, are aware of the solutions, but cannot decide who should go first.  There is no question that if civilization does not keep global warming under 2 degrees C by 2050, this effort to protect mother earth will be in vain.  I am confident that the entire membership of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is familiar with the issue and knows what must be done to avoid climate chaos.  But like nuclear disarmament, the world know the problem, it knows the solutions, but lacks the collective political will to execute.

As a small islands developing state, the Marshall Islands, and its neighbors are among the most ecologically vulnerable areas on the planet. We are actively working with other Pacific Islands to ensure that ocean resources in the region are governed and protected from exploitation. As a nation whose single most important productive sector and key export is in fisheries, the state of the world’s oceans and fish stocks and how these vital resources are being exploited remains on the list of our immediate priorities.

Recently, the Marshall Islands, in partnership with Palau and Micronesia, has undertaken a feasibility study for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion or OTEC technology, which uses the deep ocean temperature differential to generate electricity, water and other marketable by-products.  If successful, OTEC will turn the Marshall Islands and its neighbors from oil-dependent basket case economies into net exporters of renewable energy.  On this score we salute the enlightened efforts on sustainable energy in which our friends in California have been admirably proactive.

The Marshall Islands cannot afford to wait for global movement on climate change. Barely two meters above sea level, the stakes are a bit high here.  And having had our share of displaced populations, we do not see moving elsewhere as a viable option.  We are partnering with our neighbors in Micronesia in examining alternative financial mechanisms for economic security and earlier this month held a workshop in the islands on the subject of Debt for Adaptation Swap on Climate Change.  This promises to be an innovative means of dealing with nonperforming governmental development loans of the recent past.

The Micronesia Challenge is a partnership of island states of the North Pacific to jointly set aside for protection and conservation substantial areas of their individual and collective territories.   In addition, Palau, the state of Kosrae in Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands have declared a total ban on fishing and finning of Sharks in their economic zones, effectively creating the world’s largest shark sanctuary.  We are taking these extraordinary steps as proud stewards and protectors of some of the world’s richest and most diverse ecosystems.  We want to leave our planet intact for the benefit of our children, and their children’s children.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has been stalwart in its mission of nuclear disarmament and the elimination of the nuclear threat to man.  For the nearly two decades I have been associated with its efforts, I can attest to its diligence and dedication to marshal its resources to promoting peace and harmony in a nuclear free world.  That goal is pure in its intent, necessary in pursuit, and is the only option through which we can leave a world where healthy children and a healthy environment can live in harmony, now and forever.

For whatever is remaining of my life, I pledge to follow this dream that one day we can rid the world of the scourge of nuclear weapons and that peace can be achieved not by what harm we can do to each other, but by what good we can do together.

I share in this award, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, and recognize with gratitude those who have walked with me in this journey of life. I want to thank most especially my wife and my best friend, Rosalie, and our three daughters – Doreen, Dolores and Sally Ann for always standing by my side and supporting me, even when the odds were overwhelming.  My dad, my brothers and sisters and the numerous people who have made it possible for me to be recognized and honored, I wish to express to you my deepest gratitude and kamolol (mahalos).

For me, the work to address the plight of all affected peoples continues with renewed determination. We owe it to the nuclear victims and the nuclear survivors, but most importantly we owe it to the future generations of our planet.

Yokwe and God Bless you all.