Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2015
UNITED NATIONS, New York—The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), a Pacific Islands nation of 70,000, took first-of-its-kind action for disarmament April 24, 2014, when it brought lawsuits at the International Court of Justice or World Court, against the nine nuclear-armed states (the US, Russia, China, India, England, France, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea), accusing them of violating the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Because the US has rejected compulsory jurisdiction of the World Court, the RMI brought a separate lawsuit against the US government in federal district court in northern California.
On February 3, 2015, US District Judge Jeffrey White dismissed the separate suit in California on the grounds that the RMI lacks standing to bring the case and that the lawsuit is barred by the political question doctrine.
Attorneys for the Marshall Islands have appealed the US district court’s dismissal of the case. An appeals court will consider legal briefs in support of reinstating the suit after the July 20 filing deadline.
Attorney Laurie Ashton, representing the RMI, outlined the status of the suit at an NPT Review Conference workshop in New York on April 28. Ashton reported that the Marshall Islanders are not seeking financial compensation for the 67 US nuclear bomb tests that devastated their homelands. The suit seeks only a judicial declaration that the NPT is binding, and a formal injunction against the nuclear-armed states for violations of the NPT involving: 1) failure to pursue a treaty outlawing the Bomb; 2) failure to eliminate nuclear arsenals; and 3) production of new nuclear weapons. Only Pakistan, India and England have agreed to contest the issue before the World Court.
India and Pakistan have filed objections to the suit, and England is expected to do the same, claiming the case is frivolous and that the World Court is not qualified to interpret the Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, attorney Ashton said, the court’s 1996 Advisory Opinion on Nuclear Weapons stated that the NPT’s explicit pledge to negotiate nuclear disarmament is an “unqualified, inescapable, unequivocal and binding obligation.”
RMI Foreign Minister Tony deBrum also addressed the UN workshop, explaining that the lawsuits ask grave, momentous questions: “Do treaties matter? Do nuclear-armed states have to obey the same legal obligations as non-nuclear states? Who decides that a treaty is currently being violated?” Mr. deBrum said, “We are accused of being frivolous and juvenile, but we could not be more serious.” —JL