Addressing countries with a treaty requirement to pursue negotiations “in good faith” to end the nuclear arms race and achieve total nuclear disarmament

marshall islands icjTwo people on the mailing list have drawn our attention to the hearings in The Hague, which began on March 7, 2016. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) heard the preliminary objections raised by the United Kingdom (UK), India and Pakistan in the nuclear disarmament cases brought by the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). The ICJ will determine whether any legal obstacles prevent the cases from going forward for consideration.

Lesley Docksey forwarded a message from Rebecca Sharkey, co-ordinator, ICAN UK, explaining that these lawsuits, submitted by the RMI to the ICJ on April 24, 2014, aim to hold the nine nuclear-armed states (U.S., Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) accountable for violating international law by failing to respect their nuclear disarmament obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and customary international law.

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She summarises the history for those too old to remember clearly or too young to have heard about this tragedy and indeed all nuclear weapons-related concerns. In 2006, the national curriculum was changed so that it became compulsory for schools to teach all 14-16 year olds about nuclear power – though Wiki links to the subject are now inactive – after a report for the Department for Trade and Industry, published in 2003, (‘Our energy future, creating a low carbon economy’) raised concerns about a possible future skills shortage in the nuclear industry.

marshall islands testsRebecca writes:

“The Republic of the Marshall Islands, a tiny island nation in the Pacific, was used for 12 years, from 1946 to 1958, as a testing ground for nuclear bombs by the United States. Sixty-seven nuclear weapons were tested and the health and environmental effects of those tests still plague the Marshall Islanders to this day.

“Tony de Brum, former Marshall Islands Foreign Minister and Co-Agent in the cases, said, “I have seen with my very own eyes nuclear devastation and know with conviction that nuclear weapons must never again be visited upon humanity. Nuclear weapons are a senseless threat to survival and there are basic norms that compel those who possess them to pursue and achieve their elimination. This is the subject of legal action by my country at the International Court of Justice.”

“Only the UK, India and Pakistan are appearing before the Court, since only they accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ. China, the U.S., Russia, France, Israel and North Korea have chosen to ignore the ICJ cases.

“The UK case differs from the cases of India and Pakistan in that the UK is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and therefore is bound by Article VI of that treaty which requires states to pursue negotiations “in good faith” to end the nuclear arms race and achieve total nuclear disarmament. The Marshall Islands contends that India and Pakistan are bound by similar obligations under customary international law.

“With these cases the RMI asks the International Court of Justice to follow up on its earlier findings in the Advisory Opinion it delivered in 1996 on the illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. At the time the Court considered that the continued international debate on the legality of these deadly weapons threatens the stability of the international order. It added that “the long-promised complete nuclear disarmament appears to be the most appropriate means” to put an end to that untenable situation. (para. 98,”.

Readers who want to read more about the subject could access The World Court Decision and NATO Policy and also read Ben Doherty’s account here.

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