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.
- To challenge the status quo in which the world is composed of a small number of nuclear “haves” and a large number of nuclear “have-nots.”
- To use the courts to level the playing field and enforce playing by the same rules.
- To receive support from the courts in the form of declaratory and injunctive relief, so that the courts declare that the nuclear-armed countries are out of compliance with their obligations and order them to commence good faith negotiations for complete nuclear disarmament.
- To take a stand for all humanity, by ridding the world of the threat of nuclear catastrophes that could destroy civilization and much of life on the planet.
- To be good stewards of the Earth for present and future generations, protecting the various forms of flora and fauna dependent upon our doing so.
- To challenge the “good faith” of the nuclear-armed countries, for their failure to initiate negotiations for nuclear disarmament as required by the NPT and customary international law.
- To obtain the benefit of the bargain of the NPT, which means not only that its parties without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, but that all parties, including the nuclear-armed states, will negotiate their elimination.
- To end the complacency surrounding the threats that nuclear weapons pose to cities, countries and civilization.
- To awaken people everywhere to the magnitude of the threat posed by nuclear weapons.
- To say a loud and clear “Enough is enough,” and that it is time for action on the abolition of nuclear weapons.
- To achieve a “conversion of hearts,” recognized by Pope Francis as necessary for effective action in changing the world on this most challenging of threats.
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.