Personal story of Marshalls' nuclear history heard in The Hague
The lawyer representing the Marshall Islands in its international anti-nuclear case says hearings have shone a light on the lack of formal talks on nuclear disarmament.
The lawyer representing the Marshall Islands in its international anti-nuclear case says this month's hearings at The Hague have shone a light on the lack of formal talks on nuclear disarmament.
Sixteen judges of the International Court of Justice have heard preliminary arguments and are now deliberating on whether the cases against Pakistan, India and the United Kingdom should go ahead.
The Marshalls says the countries are among nine which are failing to negotiate for nuclear disarmament which violates an international treaty.
Phon van den Biesen told Sally Round the Marshalls' former foreign minister Tony de Brum, who appeared in court, put a personal face to the problems caused by nuclear weapons.
PHON VAN DEN BIESEN: He explained in a very moving manner how the Marshall Islands were the victims in the '40s and '50s of the last century of 65 nuclear tests conducted by the United States of America which very vividly showed the enormous destructive powers on nuclear weapons. So to no one, and not to the judges of the court either, it can be unclear why the Marshall Islands has a specific interest in trying to make the world get rid of nuclear weapons. The case in itself is not about those tests, but it's the motivation for the Marshall Islands to bring these cases as an introduction to the more legalistic, formal pleadings that took place this week. It was very good to make the people and the judges see what these cases actually are about.
SALLY ROUND: What were the responses of Pakistan, the UK, and India. What were their essential arguments?
PvdB: All of them had their own specific sort of objections to our claims, but the things that returned in all three of the positions of the three states were, in the first place, 'we don't have a dispute with the Marshall Islands,' and in the second place, 'we are all living up to our obligations to negotiate and to conclude negotiations on nuclear disarmament.' India, for example, had the most powerful arguments in support of that position because India has a record within the United Nations that they usually are in favour of nuclear disarmament talks and negotiations. The UK took the same position that there is no conflict because they are now also living up to their obligations to negotiate nuclear disarmament, but their record is basically opposite to that. One of the main issues was the objection that as long as not all nuclear powers are present here, it is impossible for the court to reach a judgement in the three cases that are before it and our position there is we are not talking about other states here, we are asking the court to make a judgement about the conduct of the specific states.
SR: Would you say though that the real significance in the hearing is really the attention perhaps that it's getting and that might be more significant than any decision by the court?
PvdB: I think that the great advantage achieved with these hearings is indeed (that) the issue of negotiating nuclear disarmament has received broad attention again. Also the fact that at this point in time, nowhere on earth, within the UN or outside the UN or nowhere in any official body, any serious negotiations do take place on the nuclear weapons convention. That has been so since basically since the beginning of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
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