Nuclear Colonialism and Environmental Racism:

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An Indigenous Perspective

Text of Intervention at the 2nd Preparatory Committee Meetings Leading to the Year 2000 Formal Review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 27 April to 8 May 1998

United Nations Geneva, Switzerland

Richard N. Salvador Member of Coordinating Committee Abolition 2000: A Global Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons [From Republic of Belau]

Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Delegates to the 1998 NPT PrepComm, I am thankful for this opportunity to represent NGOs for a nuclear free and independent Pacific and all colonized people in the world to communicate our sentiments and positions towards the long overdue need for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

I would like to speak to you today as an Indigenous person from the Pacific. For peoples from my region and for indigenous peoples all over this planet, the effects of the nuclear fuel chain are an assault upon our lands, our lives, our cultures. Native communities in Canada, Aboriginal communities in Australia and bushmen in Namibia are still waiting for justice concerning their inherent right to self­determination, as promised by the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

For a dozen millennia, the vast Pacific has been our home. As island peoples, we have lived in our mother's keeping and she in ours. But with the dawning of imperialism, our islands have been overrun by Europeans, by Americans and by Asians. The power and might of these colonial powers were crucial in exploiting and maintaining the Pacific as the nuclear arena, testing ground and dumpsite of nuclear materials.

The colonial stranglehold began with the taking of ports and bases in the 18th and 19th centuries. It escalated with the Second World War and it continues with superpower nuclearization of the region, nuclear testing, toxic dumping, ocean and land mining, and the latest form of exploitation, mass based corporate tourism. This is what we mean when we describe Nuclear Colonialism. It describes the use of modern technology to perpetuate the historical devastation of Indigenous lands.

In my island nation of Belau (Republic of Palau), we determined to create a nuclear-free island nation. That seemed like a noble idea, but as soon as we began to set in motion the building of our nation, our UN Administering Authority [United States] made a mockery of our genuine practice of democracy. We conducted more than ten referenda to deny the American Pentagon's plans to strike down our nuclear-free Constitution. We soon found out that the promotion of democracy was a mere rhetorical ploy. We said "NO" each time we had a referendum on the question of allowing nuclear weapons in our territory. Our first president was assassinated, and the results of each subsequent referendum were thrown out, the reason being that military imperatives took precedence over the democratic wishes and aspirations of a nation and people.

The phrase "environmental racism" is of relatively recent origin, but the practice of siting hazardous waste production and disposal in communities of color is nothing new. Environmental racism is a continuation of the discrimination people of color endure at all levels of society, from housing and education to employment, health care and legal services. Environmental racism forces people of color [in the United States], in the words of Rev. Ben Chavis Jr., "to bear the brunt of the nation's pollution problem." Examples of environmental racism abound. Called by some "human sacrifice zones", these are areas where mining occurs, where pesticide use is rampant, and of course where the pollution of the military, the biggest source of pollution on earth, accumulates and is stored.

Nuclear weapons, the focus of the NPT, are not possible without digging uranium from the earth. We believe that uranium should be left in the hands of Mother Earth - no other force is capable of containing the toxic menace of radioactivity. 70% of the world's uranium resources are located in the lands inhabited by Indigenous Peoples in Africa, Asia, Australia, and North and South America. These people are severely affected by the negative impact of mining activities.

The nuclear cycle connects the Indigenous and independence struggles with each other: Uranium mining begins on Aboriginal and Native American land; testing has been carried out on Moruroa, Fangataufa, the Marshall Islands, Kazakhstan and Nevada; MX missiles are ejected into Kwajalein waters; U.S. military bases are located in Guam, Hawaii, Okinawa, South Korea, Australia, and until 1991, the Philippines; US military spy bases are located in Aotearoa-New Zealand, Australia and the Antarctic.

Jabiluka is a proposed uranium mine which lies within the physical (although not legal) boundaries of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia. The traditional owners, the Mirrar people, have categorically stated they oppose the construction of the Jabiluka mine. Yvonne Margarula, senior traditional owner of the Jabiluka region, has this to say about the mine: "The Jabiluka deposit is ten minutes from our communities, 500 meters from a major wetland system and is enclosed within Kakadu National Park. One spill from the proposed mine will mean that natural and cultural values of Kakadu National Park would be obliterated forever....We want the Australian government to understand and act on obligations which belong to all of us to protect our country."

We reaffirm the correctness and relevance of the 1997 Moorea Declaration by Abolition 2000 which states that "colonized and indigenous people have in the large part, borne the brunt of this nuclear devastation - from the mining of uranium and the testing of nuclear weapons on indigenous peoples land, to the dumping, storage and transport of plutonium and nuclear wastes, and the theft of land for nuclear infrastructure."

We therefore come here to the table as victims of the nuclear age. While it is difficult to transcend the nature of what it is to be the sacrificial lambs of military imposed "peace," we seek to transcend mere victimization in demanding and calling for a final cessation to these genocidal acts of nuclear colonialism. We are inspired by the work of the recently-deceased Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who spoke of strategy on behalf of oppressed peoples working to liberate themselves from the oppression that dehumanizes both the oppressor and the oppressed. Being the victims of the nuclear age, we ask you to listen to the suffering voices silenced by attribution of priority to a precarious "peace" maintained by military means. The Pacific, like most Indigenous communities around the world, is heavily militarized. Genuine peace can only begin to emerge when the nations of the world start to dismantle military and nuclear installations now dominating the entire Pacific from Guam to Hawaii to French Polynesia.

Nuclear disarmament can begin to heal the wounds imposed on communities not only in the South, but in the Northern countries as well. The theory and practice of nuclear deterrence have been extremely hostile to democratic practice. Nuclear disarmament and demilitarization will allow communities to participate more fully in both the political sphere and civil society. National military strategies, on the other hand, have often required the absence of free democratic thought. As you meet here, we urge you to take strong and courageous leadership in de-legitimizing what, for a whole generation, gripped our imagination as we tottered in so close a proximity to total nuclear annihilation. As we have heard oftentimes, the end of the Cold War has provided a historic opportunity to rid ourselves of this "near-death" experience with planned obsolescence of the human race.

Both the NPT and subsequent efforts to re-visit it, including the 1995 formal review, produced many promises which you all undertook to achieve. Integrity in this instance is crucial, and we urge you all to be true to those promises. With the next formal Review of the NPT in the year 2000, it will not only be logical to set ourselves on a new footing in human history; it will also be a crucial symbol for beginning a new millennium with serious efforts to begin negotiations toward nuclear disarmament.

Discussions on nuclear stockpiles must eventually give way to development issues. In the Pacific and in many Indigenous communities worldwide, it is crucial that forms of political autonomy, liberated from the dominance of military and nuclear installations, be the basis of this new discourse of development. In connection with nuclear disarmament therefore, we urge you to support bringing to pass the end of colonialism, and our right to decolonization. Self-determination of peoples and their communities must be the basis of state relations in the coming millennium.

I am saddened by the absence of many Pacific Island nations here. Marshall Islands Ambassador Laurence Edwards called attention, at last year's NPT PrepComm, to the inability of many small island nations to come to Geneva. But he called for the creation of an Intersessional Working Group which would set in motion negotiations toward nuclear disarmament. This will be the most significant accomplishment of this NPT, and we strongly urge you to do this. The South Pacific Forum, in Rarotonga last September, expressed their support of the enhanced NPT review process, and called for more action to be taken on pursuing other efforts to proceed with the current efforts under NPT. We urge you to do the same.

Distinguished Delegates, within the next two weeks we also urge you to make the following steps that will pave the way to disarmament and our liberation from nuclear colonialism and racism:

1. For parties to the treaty to support and respect the Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaties in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia as an important disarmament measure. In the spirit of Article VII of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which upholds that it is the "right of any group of States to conclude regional treaties in order to assure the total absence of nuclear weapons in their respective territories", the NPT PrepComm should support the process of establishing such zones. Protocols must be signed now without further conditions.

2. As an expansion of the international cooperation outlined in Article IV of the NPT, with due consideration for the needs of our areas of the world, we recommend that the PrepComm urgently request parties to the Treaty in a position to do so to contribute to the environmental cleanup of the radioactive waste and contamination that are the inevitable consequence of the extraction and use of nuclear materials.

We wish to assert our right to preserve the nature of our relations with the earth, as we have for generations as Indigenous peoples. The fate of the earth rests on the proper care of the lands and waters, not by threatening to destroy the earth and its inhabitants in order to maintain dominance and hegemony. The wisdom of Indigenous peoples' relationship to the earth is the reciprocal obligation to care for the land, as it will in turn care for us. The voices of Native peoples, much popularized in these frightening times, speak a different language than old world nationalism. Our claims to uniqueness, to cultural integrity, should not be misidentified. We are stewards not of weapons stockpiles but of the earth, our mother, and we offer an ancient, umbilical wisdom about how to protect and ensure her life.

The following are words from the Final Communiqué of the Pacific Islands Non-Governmental Forum, meeting in parallel with the South Pacific Forum Summit in Rarotonga, Cook Islands in September 1997:

"Our waters are sacred waters which sustain all life forms The sea is where all life comes from. The ocean unites us all, as peoples of the Pacific. The land is our life, our history, our culture, our future generations. Our ancestors cared for these life forms, respected them and were their guardians. They are our guardians still. Our air and waters are sacred - we are not the dumpsite of the world.

"The end of nuclear testing in the Pacific does not mean the end of the nuclear age. We will return from Rarotonga to our homes, to press for an end to the transshipment, storage and dumping of nuclear wastes in the Pacific, the clean up and ongoing monitoring of contaminated areas and support for test site workers affected by nuclear testing."

We, therefore, urge you to consider these our regional concerns, expressed by our respective governments and civil society, in your deliberations. We have all come here from around the world, from across great distances, both representing governments and our communities where many of us are engaged in the daily struggles of survival as communities. The mass of the world's population have entrusted us all, therefore, with a serious responsibility to consider the troubling manner in which countless nations have treated the earth and peoples by scorching and or polluting the planet beyond Nature's immediate ability to heal it -- all of these by exploding nuclear weapons or disposing of their waste products in sensitive regions of the world. Countless Indigenous communities have and continue to be places of choice for mining the polluting uranium that is then used in generating nuclear power or developing nuclear weapons, many of which have been tested on Indigenous communities. From start to end of the nuclear chain, we in many Indigenous communities have borne the brunt of the nuclear age. We urge you to help us move to new levels of empathy, understanding, and peaceful co-existence.

The potentiality of an actual nuclear war, or of a nuclear accident, or of the utilization of nuclear materials by terrorists have increased the likelihood of more nuclear dangers in recent years. We need to morally respond to these threats of collective annihilation in like manner, that is, to set ourselves about the business of utilizing the enormous scientific and technological expertise at our disposal including developing the political will, toward eliminating these instruments of mass destruction. We have come here to consider as well the possibility for reflecting on the enormous bankruptcy of the spirit that allows the pursuit of narrowly-defined "national security" which relies on mass destruction of the planet and all its inhabitants in order to assure "security" of select nations.

By choosing to engage in re-thinking prevailing notions of State "security," we can HOPEFULLY begin to transcend this debilitating spiritual paralysis which has the potential, if sustained long enough, to subject humanity to extinction. In short, we are in need of a serious transformation of collective human consciousness. Among some of the mass technical details of moving forward with programs of disarmament, we hope that you will also address the moral imperatives underlying our anxieties about the role of instruments of mass destruction in global security. "Mutually Assured Destruction" cannot be anything but a mad, desperate attempt to pre-empt one's enemies from claiming for himself the illusion of survivability in a situation of total annihilation. We need to acknowledge the greater moral superiority behind the de-legitimation of the Cold War strategy of assurance of mutual destruction as a sane military strategy. This is suicidal and cannot be the sole determining logic of State relations in an increasingly inter-dependent world.

The International Court of Justice, the highest court in the world, has already decreed in its advisory opinion of the general illegality of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. It is in the short- and long-term interests of this body (and indeed to the future survival of humanity) that you must act decisively to match the ICJ's legal advisory with a moral force far exceeding the utility of the endless legal instruments that have been set in place to prevent, perchance, our inadvertent annihilation as a species. To this end, we commend your role in these crucial discussions on the fate of the planet and of humanity.

Thank you.

Richard Salvador Abolition 2000 Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons [From Republic of Belau]

Richard Salvador wishes to acknowledge of three colleagues who assisted him in writing his intervention at the NPT PrepComm: Ms. Myrla Baldonado, Nuclear-Free Philippines Coalition, Philippines Mr. Roger Smith, NGO Committee on Disarmament, New York Ms. Felicity Hill, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Geneva.

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