In an unprecedented legal action, the small Pacific nation and former U.S. nuclear testing site of the Marshall Islands has filed lawsuits "on behalf of all humanity" at the International Court of Justice against the U.S. and 8 other nations for their "flagrant denial of human justice" by failing to work towards nuclear disarmament.
The nations cited by the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) are the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China — all parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as nuclear-armed Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea — which are not parties to the NPT but which the challenge says are "bound by customary international law."
In addition to the suits filed Thursday in The Hague against the 9 nations, an additional suit specifically calling out the United States was filed in U.S. Federal District Court.
A campaign site launched with the suits to garner support for the action explains that the RMI "knows firsthand the horror and consequences of living in a world with nuclear weapons."
Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. used the RMI as a testing ground for the equivalent of 1.5 Hiroshima bombs detonated daily during the 12 year-year period. The testing included the detonation of the infamous Castle Bravo, which was 1,000 times larger than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima. As journalist and writer Robert Koehler noted:
Not only did we expose many thousands of [Marshall Islanders] to ghastly — often lethal — levels of radiation with 67 nuclear blasts, with glaring evidence that at least some of the exposure was intentional, done for the purpose of studying the effects of radiation on human guinea pigs; not only did we wreck the Marshall Islanders’ way of life and pristine paradise, creating a nation of internal refugees confined to a Western-style slum on the island of Ebeye; not only did we cower, as a nation, from any real responsibility for what our fallout did to these people, settling our genocidal debt to them with $150 million “for all claims, past, present and future”; but also, throughout our dealing with them as nuclear conquistadors, we displayed a racism so profound, so cold-blooded, its exposure must forever shatter the myth of American exceptionalism.
"Our people have suffered the catastrophic and irreparable damage of these weapons, and we vow to fight so that no one else on earth will ever again experience these atrocities," stated Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum. "The continued existence of nuclear weapons and the terrible risk they pose to the world threatens us all."
To address this global threat, the suits seek no compensation but rather that the courts order the nations to fulfill their disarmament obligations as laid out over four decades ago by the Article VI of the NPT:
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
With the legal challenge, "this small island nation is standing up against 9 of the most powerful countries on the planet," writes David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a U.S.-based organization supporting the lawsuits, and consultant with the RMI legal team. "It is 'David' against the nuclear 9 'Goliaths.' Its field of nonviolent battle is the courtroom."
"After 46 years with no negotiations in sight, it is time to end this madness," Krieger added in a statement. "The Marshall Islands is saying enough is enough. It is taking a bold and courageous stand on behalf of all humanity."