For video of this event, click here.
I’m proud to be here. I thank everyone in this room and their organizations who have made this possible for my country to be here. And I represent my country while I’m here. But I wanted to also share with you my personal experience so that those of you who have been involved in the law books and in the scientific journals and all the different sources of information that you have amassed to bring us to where we are today, will have a feeling, a direct touch, I hope, with what the Marshall Islands has gone through all these years and what brought us to where we are now.
The evacuation of the people of Bikini, you know the two – made room for the “peaceful use of the atom” – was in 1946. And even at that meeting when the United States representative told the Bikini people that they were going to be moved for just a while, a short while and that they would be repatriated as soon as possible, because this experiment was for the good of mankind, and it was the will of God – from that day on they started lying and giving us double talk and duplicity in all that they did in the testing period. Beyond and after to this day we are still being denied the information we seek to be educated, to be able to understand what happened to our country.
When the Enewetak people were forcibly removed in ’47 to make room for further testing on Enewetak, it was the same story. We will take you off on this ship to (this island) and we will bring you right back when we are through. To this day, neither Bikini nor Enewetak can be safely, totally safely resettled.
My experience with the bomb did not start in ’54. I actually remember as early as when I was four years old listening to the rumbles and the flashes from the west from the island where I lived with my grandfather called Likiep. But the experience of the morning of 1954, March 1st was, I think, the jolt on my soul that never quite left me. Seeing Bravo as a nine year old was an experience I would not recommend to anyone because it still gives us nightmares – the people of my age and younger and around maybe some older from that time.
So when we had the opportunity to go to school, four years later, 1958 I left home to go to school and did not return until 1968. When we had the opportunity to go to school, we were overwhelmed with having to catch up with civilization, with mathematics, with science, with whatever it took to graduate. And we were not able to access information that would give us more understanding of what we had experienced as children.
But when we returned we had that opportunity. We had that new license to speak – the fact that we were educated in American colleges was the license that we sought and that the people that we worked for recognized as the ability to speak up on their behalf. Even when I returned from school, the program of so-called “testing’ exposed people was in full swing. Each year, scientists – I call them scientists – though they liked to refer to themselves as doctors – would come in and study our people, take blood samples and other samples and do all kinds of things to keep up, to keep track of the radiation outside and within their bodies. It was not a pleasant experience for our communities, but it was a continuation of what had happened from Bravo and the subsequent years after.
From the time the testing started in ’47 until Bravo, about half of the 67 “events” were conducted by the United States. And then between ’57 and ’58, 33 or 34 more shots were done in that short period of time, of 2 years. After, the people were removed and were put back on Rongelap to continue the experiments.
Part of what John was referring to earlier in that interview in the movie, the video, Nuclear Savage, was our attempt to understand documents that had been released by the Clinton administration, pursuant to our requests, for years, for information which demonstrated and proved to us that these doctors that I spoke about were actually conducting human experiments on the people of Rongelap and Utirik. They we not treating them for the anomalies that were coming up, but they were actually studying the affects of radiation on human beings.
It is unfortunate that between 1954 and 1994 we were not able to access that information. But even after we’ve understood that, there is still denial that Project 4.1, the project I referred to is a project to study the affects of radiation on human beings. It’s still being denied by officials of the United States.
Our attempts to bring justice to the people of the Marshalls for all that happened to them during this time have been hampered primarily by the withholding of information by the United States on the excuse, and it’s simply an excuse, that it is in the security interest of the United States to do so. How information such as the yield of a particular weapon or the “event” or the “detonation” can be classified on that basis is a mystery to us. But nevertheless, it’s still being used to this day to deny us the information we seek.
The direct effects of some of the testing, especially Bravo, resulted in various anomalies, birth anomalies and sicknesses that the communities of the Marshalls had never experienced before.
But because the islands were closed to any interference from outside between 1946 and 1968, there was very little information that flowed out from the Marshalls until then.
Before 1968 in order, even for some of us to try to leave the Marshalls to go away to school, in order for us to leave our country we needed the permission of the Navy Admiral in Guam to allow us to catch military airplanes out of the Marshalls to Honolulu and on to the US mainland for schooling. So there was already at that time an attempt to decide who amongst us would be allowed to go away to school and who would be denied passage simply because of your family or because of whom you associated with in high school.
When the opportunity arose for us to seek compensation and seek the truth for the damages we suffered from the nuclear testing it was under the auspices of the negotiations leading to independence. We were concerned that the United States was cutting and running – walking away from a responsibility that it had created for itself and was denying in terms of making sure that we had the right information based upon which we could make the right decisions on how this relationship would proceed.
Secondly, we were being presented with information that was claimed to be the infinite, total, complete information that the United States was able to provide in a 1978 survey.
And number three, we were told that if we did not accept the nuclear deal, the 150 million compensation in a trust fund and the establishment of a nuclear claims tribunal, that we would not be allowed independence.
So regardless of what is said about that deal, it was tied to freedom. And the final decision that was placed on us was – are you willing to settle for this agreement, this nuclear claims agreement – in return for your freedom? Or, we will keep you as a trust territory for as long as we want because we have that authority under the United Nations.
The decision was made to be free.
But to continue to seek information that would give us a final answer to all our concerns about the testing period and what it did to us. We have since found out of course that the information provided to us was also very much, ah, “edited” “abridged” “painted” in a way that we would accept it and with the assurances that the amounts that the United States estimated to be adequate for health care and for compensation for physical injury would suffice. As it turned out, none of these things were true.
The people of the Marshalls have filed before in times past. Both the people of Bikini and the people of Enewetak have filed cases in US courts for compensation based on information that they were able to garner through the nuclear claims tribunal and experts hired by that tribunal to provide technical information that (assists) to them. These cases have been dismissed, not on any good grounds accept that the time had run out. We were violating, what is the word I’m looking for – we were violating statues of limitations issues and not on the merit of the cases themselves – procedural rather than substantial reasons.
Today, we have completely run out of funds to address the individual physical injury cases adjudicated by the tribunal and we have not even touched damages to home and property because there are no funds left to address those.
Under the Compact of Free Association there was an agreement that should the terms of the settlement be proven inadequate that there would be a window of opportunity to revisit the issue between the United States government and the Marshall Islands. This request has gone in, in several forms, over the past twenty years only to be rejected again on the grounds that time has run out and the political settlement had been reached in 1986.
So, while we still bear the scars and in fact in some cases, still the open wounds of physical harm from the testing period, there is no physical avenue of settlement at the present time. And just within the last five years, the US Supreme Court has rejected the last two attempts by the people of Enewetak and Bikini to seek justice.
Now, I should say from the beginning here that the lawsuits that I discussed before are different from what we have done now. What we seek now is for the United States and the nuclear powers to abide by the treaty to which they acceded before and for those that did not, by customary law, should also follow. It is an important part of our history because without it, it will remain open-ended – and incomplete. It will not be acceptable for us to leave that open (vacuum?) for our future generations.
It is also right for us to do that because we have seen first-hand the effects of nuclear weapons on human beings. The scourge of displaced communities within their own homeland – the scourge that the people of Enewetak must now live in an atoll that is half contaminated, half acceptable for habitation, at least by US standards, is not a very comfortable end of a very long hard journey.
Just recently a professor from Columbia University has written a piece about the Runit Dome, the only nuclear storage area in Micronesia located in Enewetak where the United States pushed and shoved plutonium contaminated material into a bomb crater, then steeled the top with a concrete cap, and said we will keep it away from human beings for 24,000 years. Now, we have seen because of normal wear and tear, and because of higher seas, cracks in the dome and the possibility now appears that some of this contaminated material may permeate into the lagoon and surrounding communities.
The most recent response from the United States to this concern is as follows: Even if the crater were to be blasted completely open and everything in it were to flow out to the community and the lagoon – what’s in the crater is not as dangerous as what’s outside the crater.
So much for the clean-up of Enewetak.
So, in spite of assurances that it is in fact safe for some of our people to live in, say, Rongelap, or Bikini, or Enewetak, it has always been a stressful issue. And neither Rongelap nor Bikini are inhabited and the half of Enewetak that is, in fact, occupied by some people of Enewetak, is very sparsely populated because most of them have left to the other atolls or to the big island of Hawaii where a sizable, meaning a few hundred, Enewetak people now live.
There is nothing more final in the life of an island person than to be separated from your homeland. It is living hell. It is death while alive. It is impossible to hold your head up as a human being when you cannot ask for your land, ask your land to provide for yourself and must depend on somebody else for that privilege.
So unless and until some form of settlement is again reached and people are repatriated to their own lands, this nuclear legacy of the Marshalls will continue. And we do not wish this upon anyone else, anyone else in the world.
I may not look that old but I do have nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren of which I’m very, very proud. And until today, until the very day I left to come on this trip they look up to you and they ask, “What’s going to happen? What are you going to come back with? What are the answers you seek? You’re away too much.” And you must always go back from these ones saying “Very soon, very soon.”
But we will never give up. And it is the support and the council of the people we have in this room today that gives us that courage and that determination – that through our efforts, as meager as they may be, and as small as we are in the world – we have one vote in the UN – and we have a voice that will not be silenced until the world is rid of all nuclear weapons. Because that’s the cause of this all. Thank you.