UN Rights Commission Considers RMI Nuclear Legacy

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International community asked to increase assistance

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Yokwe, Sept. 14, 2012) – A United Nations Special Rapporteur presented his report on the Marshall Islands nuclear legacy today during the UN Human Rights Commission's 21st regular session. Calin Georgescu, who spoke on the extractive industries as they related to the management of hazardous substances and the resultant impact on human rights, also made his mission report focusing on the impact on human rights of the nuclear testing programme on the Marshall Islands by the United States. In response, the Marshall Islands, several other Pacific nations, and non-profits spoke out on the issue.

Georgescu, is the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste. Under UN assignment, he visited the Marshalls in March.

The following comments were included in the Human Rights Council media report for September 13:

The mission report focused on the impact on human rights of the nuclear testing programme on the Marshall Islands by the United States. The nuclear testing had resulted in both immediate and continuing effects on the human rights of the Marshallese. Radiation from the testing allegedly resulted in fatalities and acute and long-term health complications. Moreover, many people continued to experience indefinite displacement. The international community was called upon to provide increased assistance to the Marshall Islands in facing the consequences of the testing, including addressing the needs of victims, and a particular appeal was made to the United Nations and its specialised agencies and interested Member States to examine the possibility of broader involvement in the development of a comprehensive action plan for the rehabilitation and long-term sustainable development of the Marshallese people. Furthermore, both parties were requested to undertake all further necessary action to protect the right to life, health and environment of all affected victims and their families. The Special Rapporteur, concluding with some personal thoughts as it was the last time he would address the Council, expressed worry as to whether there truly was any significant prospect for the situation to improve in the Marshall Island in the near future.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Philip Muller, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Marshall Islands, representing a concerned country, said that the continued denial of justice to the Marshallese people was completely unacceptable. It was now time to move beyond accusation and take action to resolve the very real human rights impacts which continued to exist as a result of the nuclear testing. The recommendations of the Special Rapporteur were welcomed, and the United States and the international community were urged to do the same. Furthermore, the Human Rights Council was urged to follow up on the recommendations during the next Universal Periodic Review round.

United States, speaking as a concerned country, said that it felt strongly that the nuclear testing was not fundamentally an issue of sound management and disposal of hazardous waste, even more so when described as one of improper disposal. It noted a number of assertions of human rights law within the report with which it disagreed, including the continued obligation of the international community to encourage a final and just resolution of the issues. It acknowledged the negative impacts. The United States would continue in its decade-long engagement to address issues arising from the nuclear testing

Australia said that it had joined with other Pacific Leaders at the Pacific Island Forum in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, in August 2012 in reaffirming recognition of the special circumstances pertaining to the continued presence of radioactive contaminants in the Marshall Island. Australia welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur as a contribution to stimulating dialogue between the parties in the spirit of understanding and reconciliation for the benefit of the Marshallese people.

New Zealand, speaking on behalf of the Cook Islands, Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, said during the Forum’s meeting last month in the Cook Islands, leaders had recognised the special circumstances pertaining to the continued presence of radioactive contaminants in the Marshall Islands and reaffirmed the existence of a special responsibility by the United States towards the people of the Marshall Islands. They also called for the issues to be adequately addressed through the United Nations system.

Maldives took note of the first report submitted to the Council by the Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and said that the effect of nuclear testing on the Marshall Islands must be examined from several aspects, such as its impact on the health of the population and the environment. The support of the international community in this regard was very much needed because many small island States were struggling with multifaceted challenges and did not have the capacity to deal with such adverse impacts on the environment.

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation said that the compensation and remediation provided by the United States for the nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands had been insufficient to fully attend to the healthcare and socio-economic needs of the Marshallese people. The international community, the United States and the Government of the Marshall Islands must develop long-term strategic measures to address the effects of the nuclear testing programme and provide adequate redress to the citizens of the Marshall Islands.

Physicians for Social Responsibility provided an eyewitness account of the nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands by the United States by Jeban Riklon, who had lived on Rongelap Atoll, where no one knew that the United States had planned to test the Bravo bomb on that day and did not know that precautionary measures should have been taken. The population had been evacuated by the United States only two days later and brought into a military encampment and enrolled in Project 4.1. to study the effects of radiation on human beings.

Cultural Survival also provided an eyewitness account of the nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands by the United States by Lemeyo Abon, President of the ERUB (damaged, broken) association of Marshallese nuclear survivors. Ms. Abon described the explosion of the bomb Bravo on Bikini Atoll, just 180 km upwind from Rongelap Atoll where she had lived. The immensely painful consequences were felt even today, with birth of babies with missing limbs and other congenital defects.

Conclusion

Special Rapporteur Calin Georgescu said in his closing remarks that the international community would have to develop a legally binding treaty to cover the gaps in treatment of hazardous substances and wastes left by the Basel and Hague Conventions. With regard to the report on the Marshall Islands, the Special Rapporteur said he had received a communication from the United States that nuclear testing was outside of his mandate. Mr. Georgescu expressed his full support to the involvement of the international community in the process between the Marshall Islands and the United States which could not be kept a bilateral process, and said that this issue was completely within the scope of his mandate.

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