MARSHALL ISLANDS: WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE NUCLEAR TRIBUNAL? - June 27, 2001

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MARSHALL ISLANDS: WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE NUCLEAR TRIBUNAL?

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (June 8, 2001 – Marshall Islands Journal)---The Nuclear Claims Tribunal’s future after September 30 is uncertain, as is the question of future compensation payments for Marshall Islanders who have received partial awards from the Tribunal. Equally uncertain is the status of the RMI’s nuclear test compensation fund, which is expected to have about $50 million left in it at the end of September.

Created by the Compact of Free Association to satisfy nuclear test-related claims not otherwise settled by other compensation provisions of the Compact, the Tribunal has no set period of operations – but it has already received and issued out virtually all of its Compact-mandated compensation funding, which was limited to 15 years.

Tribunal and Cabinet officials are having sporadic discussions on the issue, though the Tribunal has been seeking a decision from the government since late last year as to the next step in the compensation program.

The Tribunal’s future – or lack thereof – has a number of ramifications:

Another key issue relates to the RMI’s nuclear test compensation trust fund provided by the Compact.

When the first 15 years of the Compact comes to an end at midnight September 30, approximately $50 million is expected to remain in the nuclear compensation fund. This fund has paid out $18 million annually since 1987, funds that have gone directly to Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik, to the Tribunal and to the 177 Health Plan.

What happens to that $50 million is not yet clear, and the Compact language is somewhat ambiguous. What is clear is that the money is to remain as a fund for nuclear test compensation, but the mechanics of the future compensation program must still to be worked out by the government.

Marshallese claimants are owed close to $30 million in awards that the Tribunal has approved but not fully paid because it lacked the funds. A total of $44.3 million has so far been paid.

One possibility under discussion is to pay off the already-approved claims with money remaining in the trust fund. But while this would, no doubt, be welcome news for the 1,709 claimants or their surviving relatives who have received only partial payments, it raises a question about the fairness for future Marshallese claimants.

What happens, for example, to the Marshall Islanders who may develop compensable health problems over the next 10-15 years if the fund is virtually exhausted (or so low as to produce little interest)?

Clearly, given the magnitude of the land damage settlements to date (well over $1 billion), these must go back to the U.S. Congress – or U.S. courts – for satisfaction. The Tribunal has played its part in assessing the damage, but the final decisions are way beyond the Tribunal’s financial reach.

Personal injury claims, on the other hand, are more modest and will continue to develop for many years to come, so it is clear that a compensation trust fund – and the Tribunal, in one form or another – needs to be in existence for the foreseeable future to address this ongoing compensation need.

Claims Will Flow In Every Quarter

While the vast majority of nuclear test claims were filed with the Tribunal in the early 1990s, they continue on a regular, if slower, pace.

The last three quarters, ending in March, an average 11 claims were approved each quarter.

For every approved claim, a larger number of claims that were not approved were also filed by Marshallese.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: journal@ntamar.com  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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