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A nuclear test takes place at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1956. (Photo: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons/flickr/cc)

'Where Is Justice'? Top UN Court Rejects Marshall Islands Nuke Case

International Court of Justice rejects three disarmament cases against U.K., Pakistan, and India, claiming it did not have jurisdiction

Nadia Prupis, staff writer

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Wednesday rejected three nuclear disarmament cases filed by the Marshall Islands against the United Kingdom, Pakistan, and India, on the grounds that the court does not have the jurisdiction to handle them.

The ICJ, the United Nations' highest court, ruled 9-8 the plaintiffs did not prove that a legal argument existed between the island country and the three nuclear nations before the case was filed in 2014. The Marshall Islands said the states had failed to fulfill their disarmament obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

According to the Associated Press, in the case against the U.K., the panel was deadlocked until ICJ President Ronny Abraham cast a vote in support of the nuclear powers. In Pakistan and India's cases, the margin was 9-7.

"If the ICJ fails to properly consider their case, where do the Marshallese go to seek justice?" said Kate Hudson, general secretary of the U.K.-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

"The U.K. signed the NPT almost fifty years ago, committing to enter negotiations to get rid of its nuclear weapons. Instead, the government is in the process of spending at least £205 billion on new nuclear weapons—with the metal cutting tragically starting today," Hudson continued. "A mechanism is needed to ensure compliance with this international treaty, as currently the U.K. is dodging its obligations."

The initial case was filed against nine states in total—the U.K., India, and Pakistan, as well as the U.S., France, Russia, China, North Korea, and Israel—but the other six never made it to the preliminary hearings.

The Marshall Islands has vested interest in disarmament because the tiny Pacific nation served as an unwilling nuclear testing ground for the U.S. from 1946 to 1958. The so-called "Bravo" hydrogen bomb, tested at Bikini Atoll, was estimated to be 1,000 times bigger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Many native residents were forced to flee their lands and thousands were exposed to radioactive material as a result of these tests. Former Marshall Islands foreign minister Tony deBrum testified at ICJ hearings in March that he witnessed nuclear tests as a nine-year-old boy.

"The entire sky turned blood red," he told the panel at the time. "Many died, or suffered birth defects never before seen and cancers as a result of contamination."

"Several islands in my country were vaporized and others are estimated to remain uninhabitable for thousands of years," he said.

Phon van den Biesen, a lawyer for the Marshall Islands, told the AP after the decision, "If the court keeps creating this sort of threshold, what is the court for? It's a dispute that is clear to all of the world except for eight judges here."

Hudson added, "It is no wonder that [the Marshall Islands] want to see an end to nuclear weapons."


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