International Court of Justice Dismisses Marshall Islands’ Nuclear Disarmament Cases Without Considering the Merits

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International Court of Justice Dismisses Marshall Islands’ Nuclear Disarmament Cases Without Considering the Merits

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Rick Wayman
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Photograph: CIJ-ICJ/UN-ONU, Capital Photos/Frank van Beek – Courtesy of the ICJ. All rights reserved.

October 5, 2016 – The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the world’s highest court, delivered its judgments on preliminary issues in the Marshall Islands’ nuclear disarmament cases against India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom (UK).

By a vote of 8-8, by the casting vote of Ronny Abraham, President of the Court, the Court upheld the objection of the United Kingdom that there was not sufficient evidence of the existence of a dispute, and therefore the ICJ does not have jurisdiction to hear the case on the merits.

By votes of 9-7, the Court upheld the objections of India and Pakistan that there was not sufficient evidence of the existence of a dispute, and therefore the ICJ does not have jurisdiction to hear the cases on the merits.

The government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands released an official statement following the judgments, which can be found at the end of this press release.

Phon van den Biesen, Co-Agent of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, said, “We are pleased that the Court recited its unanimous decision of 1996 that there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects. Likewise we are pleased that half of the judges of the highest court in the world confirmed, as the Marshall Islands alleged, that jurisdiction exists here. Nonetheless it is difficult to understand how eight judges could have found that no disputes existed in these cases when they were filed. So that is very disappointing. It is particularly worrying that the World Court cannot be unanimous on what it takes to establish a dispute in the context of nuclear disarmament.”

These unprecedented lawsuits were submitted by the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) to the ICJ on April 24, 2014. They aimed to hold the nine nuclear-armed states (U.S., Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) accountable for violating international law by failing to respect their nuclear disarmament obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and customary international law.

Only the UK, India and Pakistan appeared before the Court, since only they accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ. China, the U.S., Russia, France, Israel and North Korea chose to ignore the ICJ cases. The RMI also has a nuclear disarmament case pending against the United States in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a consultant to the RMI, said, “In bringing these lawsuits, Tony de Brum and the Marshall Islands have demonstrated the courage and determination to act and speak, based on conviction and bitter, tragic experience, for the benefit of all humankind. De Brum and the Marshall Islands made the choice to act in a constructive manner to find a path to end the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons. With the lawsuits, the Marshall Islands challenged the nuclear-armed states to show good faith in meeting the universal legal obligation to pursue and conclude negotiations on complete nuclear disarmament. The Marshall Islands itself has shown good faith fulfilment of that obligation in a dignified, respectful way, through court action.”

Contact information for the International Legal Team:

Phon van den Biesen, Co-Agent of the RMI
Attorney at Law at Van den Biesen Kloostra Advocaten, Amsterdam http://vdbkadvocaten.eu/en/phon-van-den-biesen-en/
+31.65.2061266
phonvandenbiesen@vdbkadvocaten.eu

A complete list of the International Legal Team as well as information on the lawsuits can be found at www.nuclearzero.org. The California-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is consultant to the Republic of the Marshall Islands.


Official statement from the government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands:

“While these proceedings were initiated by a previous government administration, and have been carried forward, the Marshall Islands has – for decades – repeatedly reminded the international community that our own burden and experiences with nuclear detonation must never again be repeated – this includes Marshallese who petitioned the United Nations in 1954 and 1956 to cease the nuclear testing program during its status as a UN Trust Territory. Recent nuclear tests in North Korea are a stunning example of clearly unacceptable risks which remain with us all.

While it may be that there are several political pathways to sharply reducing – and eliminating – nuclear risk, further progress on nuclear disarmament appears stalled. Without further flexibility and political will by all sides of the table, and with all necessary actors – and without common agreement on a way forward, it is as though there is no visible path to a world free of nuclear weapons, and the peace and security which accompany it. Such a lack of progress is no way to honor or respond to the lesson that Marshallese people have offered the world.

We look forward to studying closely the Court’s opinion before commenting further.”


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