RMI Takes 3 Nuclear Powers To International Court Of Justice

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Britain, India, Pakistan remain parties to nuclear disarmament case

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, March 7, 2016) – An international court in The Netherlands today begins hearings in a nuclear disarmament battle brought by the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Islands filed lawsuits in the International Court of Justice nearly two years ago against nine states including declared nuclear powers China, France, Russia and the United States as well as Israel and North Korea.

Only Britain, India and Pakistan have made a commitment to respond to the suits and are appearing before the court.

The Marshall Islands has accused the nine countries of flagrant violation of international law for failing to pursue the negotiations required by the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In the hearings, which start today, the court will hear the preliminary objections raised by the UK, India and Pakistan.

The court will determine whether any legal obstacles prevent the cases from going forward for consideration on their merits.

The Marshall islands legal team said the British case differed from the cases of India and Pakistan in that Britain was a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and bound by its Article VI.

That clause requires states to pursue negotiations "in good faith" to end the nuclear arms race and achieve total nuclear disarmament.

The Marshall Islands contends that India and Pakistan are bound by similar obligations under customary international law.

Case could "change the world"

"From a legal perspective, the issues presented by these cases are ordinary ones, but a positive outcome will, spectacularly, change the world, " said Phon van den Biesen, who is leading the team.

"We are, basically, asking the Court to tell the respondent states to live up to their obligations under international law and to conduct negotiations leading to the required result: nuclear disarmament in all its aspects."

Many activists and academics believe getting the three larger nations into court is a victory in itself for the Marshall Islands which is home to just 50,000 people.

It was the site of 67 nuclear tests by 1958 and health impacts from the tests linger to this day.

"The success will be in putting the issue back on the agenda.This is as much as the Marshall Islands can hope for," said Dapo Akande, professor of international law at Oxford University.

"When the Marshall Islands goes to the ICJ, it's equal with Britain and with India," Akande added.

"Big countries get dragged into disputes to which they otherwise would not have needed to pay attention."

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