Tony de Brum, former Foreign Minister of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), passed away on August 22, 2017. He was a powerful and inspiring voice for the abolition of nuclear weapons as well as climate sanity. He was a visionary leader, respected and admired throughout the world for his strength, wisdom, warmth and unceasing optimism.
Born in 1945, de Brum was one of the first Marshall Islanders to graduate from college. He played a key role in the negotiations that led to the first compact of free association between the U.S. and the RMI, and participated in the development of the Constitution of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Between the years 1946 and 1958, the U.S. used the Marshall Islands as a nuclear testing ground, detonating 67 nuclear and thermonuclear weapons in the atmosphere and under the waters of this small island nation. Tony de Brum was a “nuclear witness” to many of them.
As a nine-year-old boy living on Likiep Atoll at the time of the Castle Bravo nuclear test – an explosion 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, de Brum remembered, “Bravo went off with a very bright flash, almost a blinding flash; bear in mind we were almost 200 miles away from ground zero. No sound, just a flash and then a force, the shock wave – as if you were under a glass bowl and someone poured blood over it. Everything turned red: sky, the ocean, the fish, my grandfather’s net. People in Rongelap claim they saw the sun rising from the West.”
De Brum worked selflessly throughout his life for the people of the Marshall Islands. Eventually, his vision and efforts for peace, justice and a world without nuclear weapons extended to people everywhere.
“Tony and I first met at the University of Hawaii in the mid 1960s. We reconnected later when Tony was an official of the RMI and we were both working to abolish nuclear weapons,” said David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF). “I was impressed by his commitment to go beyond his island nation and play a leadership role in ending the nuclear weapons era.”
In 2012, NAPF honored de Brum with its Distinguished Peace Leadership Award for his exceptional efforts on behalf of the Marshall Islands victims of nuclear testing. De Brum accepted the award in Santa Barbara at the Foundation’s annual Evening For Peace. This led to further collaboration with de Brum and brainstorming about what meaningful steps could be taken to awaken the world to the need for nuclear abolition.
In 2014, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, led by Minister de Brum, filed the Nuclear Zero Lawsuits in the International Court of Justice, landmark cases against the nine nuclear-armed nations “for failing to comply with their obligations under international law to pursue negotiations in good faith for the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons.” NAPF was a consultant to the RMI on the cases, working side by side with de Brum and a pro bono legal team for more than four years. Krieger noted, “Tony demonstrated courage and integrity in his willingness to hold the nine nuclear-armed nations to account in fulfilling their legal obligations to rid the world of nuclear weapons. These lawsuits would never have occurred without the courage of Tony de Brum.”
In 2015, De Brum and the people of the Marshall Islands received the Right Livelihood Award “in recognition of their vision and courage to prosecute nuclear powers that do not respect their disarmament obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” De Brum and the Marshall Islanders were voted “2016 Arms Control Persons of the Year” by the Arms Control Association. Lastly, Minister de Brum and the Marshall Islanders were nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.
De Brum was also well known in international circles for his strong advocacy for curtailing climate change, which disproportionally affects small island states like the RMI. He spoke on these issues at the United Nations and was the keynote speaker for the Seventh Regional Conference on Island Sustainability last year in Guam.
Throughout his life, Tony de Brum never wavered from his commitment to abolish the weapons that damaged his country and its people, and continues to threaten all of humanity. He showed the world that even a leader from a tiny island nation, with vision and persistence, could have significant global impact.
Tony de Brum was a warrior for peace, disciplined and committed to overcoming all obstacles on the path to a better world. He will be sorely missed, but his words will continue to inspire: “We will never give up. We have a voice that will not be silenced until the world is rid of all nuclear weapons.”
# # #
To read Tony de Brum’s acceptance speech from the 2012 Evening For Peace, click here.
To arrange an interview with David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, please contact Sandy Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or (805) 965-3443.
About the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation:
Founded in 1982, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s mission is to educate and advocate for peace and a world free of nuclear weapons and to empower peace leaders. The Foundation is a non-partisan, non-profit organization with consultative status to the United Nations and is comprised of individuals and groups worldwide who realize the imperative for peace in the Nuclear Age. For more information, visit www.wagingpeace.org