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RONGELAP, Marshall Islands (November 9, 2001 – Marshall Islands Journal)---Three days of hearings into the "hardship" experienced by the Rongelap people as a result of the U.S. nuclear testing program wrapped up Friday last week in Majuro.

Closing statements by Public Advocate Bill Graham, representing the Rongelap ‘alab’ (clan heads) and ‘drijerbal’ (commoners), attorney John Masek, representing the Rongelap Atoll Local Government, and from Philip Okney, the Defender of the Fund, followed many Rongelap Islanders and expert witnesses.

Graham said that a study by Dr. Barbara Rose Johnston and Dr. Holly Barker, together with testimony from Rongelap people, had demonstrated that the people continue to suffer a variety of damages because of the nuclear testing from 1946 to 1958.

He pointed to:

Graham also pointed out that the study prepared by Johnston and Barker detailed examples of compensation in similar situations – a Native American tribe that was compensated for the loss of their way of life; the cleanup of the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker; and Alaskan radiation experiments – that addressed the three parts of the Rongelap claim: loss of use, cleanup/restoration, and hardship.

Graham concluded his testimony by recalling words of the late Rongelap Senator Jeton Anjain, whom he described as a "tireless advocate" for the Rongelap people. Anjain frequently ended his letters and speeches by asking that the "wrongs be righted for the sake of our children and their children’s children."

Okney, in his response, emphasized that in a number of specific examples, Rongelap individuals were aware of activities of the Atomic Energy Commission, understood restrictions placed on eating foods or visiting islands, or gave their approval, as in the case of an autopsy conducted on the first exposed person to die about two years after the fall our 1954.

Despite warnings from the AEC doctors not to eat certain foods on Rongelap, some islanders testified during the hearing that they ignored the warnings and ate the restricted food anyway, he said. Rongelap residents chose to eat foods that they were advised against by the AEC, he said.

He stressed the point that there was a degree of "informed consent" on the part of Rongelap Islanders in relation to the activities of the AEC.

He added that he didn’t deny that the events (exposure, etc.) took place, but asked that as the Tribunal reviews the case for an award, it consider that the actions of the U.S. reflected attitudes and the "mindset" of the 1950s.

Rongelap Local Government attorney John Masek said it was unbelievable to even suggest that in 1957 people on Rongelap had "the knowledge and power to tell the AEC to get lost. The Marshallese had no means to resist the U.S. nine years after World War II."

Commenting on the assertion that people ate food despite being told not to, Masek said that on the outer islands food was often in short supply, so people ate what was available. "That doesn’t diminish the damages, it only compounds it."

At the conclusion of the hearing, members of the Rongelap community stood up and sang the Rongelap anthem for the Tribunal members.

Although this was the last hearing in the Rongelap class action claim, a number of additional written testimonies and documents are to be filed with the Tribunal during the next two months. A decision on this aspect of the three-part claim is not expected until sometime next year, possibly by summer time.

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

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