March 2, 2016
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On March 7, 2016, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the world’s highest court, will begin hearings in The Hague, Netherlands, on the preliminary objections raised by the United Kingdom (UK), India and Pakistan in the nuclear disarmament cases brought by the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). The purpose of the hearings is for the Court to determine whether any legal obstacles prevent the cases from going forward to consideration on their merits.
These unprecedented lawsuits were submitted by the RMI to the ICJ on April 24, 2014. They aim 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.
The RMI, a tiny island nation in the Pacific, was used for 12 years, from 1946 to 1958, as a testing ground for nuclear bombs by the United States. Sixty-seven nuclear weapons were tested and the health and environmental effects of those tests still plague the Marshall Islanders to this day. The destructive power of the 1954 “Castle Bravo” nuclear test was 1,000 times greater than the bomb that destroyed the city of Hiroshima, Japan.
Tony de Brum, former Marshall Islands Foreign Minister and Co-Agent in the cases, said, “I have seen with my very own eyes nuclear devastation and know with conviction that nuclear weapons must never again be visited upon humanity. Nuclear weapons are a senseless threat to survival and there are basic norms that compel those who possess them to pursue and achieve their elimination. This is the subject of legal action by my country at the International Court of Justice.”
Only the UK, India and Pakistan are appearing before the Court, since only they accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ. China, the U.S., Russia, France, Israel and North Korea have chosen to ignore the ICJ cases.
The UK case differs from the cases of India and Pakistan in that the UK is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and therefore is bound by Article VI of that treaty which requires states to pursue negotiations “in good faith” to end the nuclear arms race and achieve total nuclear disarmament. The Marshall Islands contends that India and Pakistan are bound by similar obligations under customary international law.
“From a legal perspective, the issues presented by these cases are ordinary ones, but a positive outcome will, spectacularly, change the world. We are, basically, asking the Court to tell the respondent states to live up to their obligations under international law and to conduct negotiations leading to the required result: nuclear disarmament in all its aspects,” said Phon van den Biesen, attorney at law in Amsterdam, Co-Agent for the RMI who is leading the International Legal Team.
With these cases the RMI asks the International Court of Justice to follow up on its earlier findings in the Advisory Opinion it delivered in 1996 on the illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. At the time the Court considered that the continued international debate on the legality of these deadly weapons threatens the stability of the international order. It added that “the long-promised complete nuclear disarmament appears to be the most appropriate means” to put an end to that untenable situation. (para. 98, http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/95/7495.pdf)
World leaders, international non-governmental organizations, world-class experts and Nobel Peace Laureates have offered strong support for the cases, denouncing nuclear weapons as immoral and illegal (http://nuclearzero.org/#lastone).
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/
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.