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Marshalls to dispute nuclear lawsuit ruling

Tuesday 10 February 2015 | Published in Regional


MAJURO – Disarmament campaigners say they will appeal a US Federal Court ruling that a Marshall Islands’ nuclear lawsuit against the United States has no grounds.

Last year, the Marshallese government filed unprecedented lawsuits in the International Court of Justice and US Federal Court against nine nuclear-armed countries.

It argued that the nuclear powers – the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea – were in “flagrant violation of international law” for failing to disarm.

But US federal judge Jeffrey White has dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the harm caused by the US breach of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was “speculative”.

In his ruling, Justice White said compelling the United States to negotiate disarmament would not redress any harm to the Marshall Islands.

He added that the lawsuit also ran afoul of “separation of powers” requirements between the judicial and the executive branches of government.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a non-government organisation supporting Marshall Islands in its legal fight, said it would appeal last week’s decision.

But Giff Johnson, editor of the Marshall Islands Journal, said the ruling “closes the door on key points”.

“The Marshalls were trying to get some traction to get a ruling directing the US to engage in essentially nuclear disarmament talks,” he told the ABC.

“But the courts can’t order the executive branch to do that – the courts don’t have the jurisdiction. It would make it very difficult on an appeal for this to move forward.”

The United States conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1958.

Tests conducted in the Pacific nation included the “Castle Bravo” detonation of a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll in 1954, the largest the United States has ever conducted.

The detonation was estimated to be 1000 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945, producing an intense fireball followed by a 32-kilometre mushroom cloud.

Marshall Islanders are still plagued by the health and environmental effects as a result of the widespread radioactive fallout, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation said.

The group of 31 atolls was occupied by Allied forces in 1944 and put under US administration in 1947.

The tiny Pacific Ocean territory, which has a population of about 68,000, became an independent republic in 1986.

Under bilateral agreements between the United States and the Marshall Islands, a Nuclear Claims Tribunal was established to assess and award damages to victims of the nuclear tests.

But the tribunal has never had the cash to compensate fully for the damage done.

Russia said last year that the nuclear lawsuits were “baseless” and would not help rid the world of atomic weapons.