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Christian campaigners get behind Marshall Islanders' case

12 August 2016


Testing: an unarmed ballistic missile launches from California, headed toward Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, in February

Testing: an unarmed ballistic missile launches from California, headed toward Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, in February

CHRISTIAN campaigners against nuclear weapons used the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, on Saturday, to draw attention to an ongoing legal battle waged by the tiny Pacific Marshall Islands against the UK’s nuclear programme.

On 6 August 1945 the United States launched on Hiroshima, in Japan, the world’s first nuclear attack. This year the Christian wing of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) held a demonstration in central London, to both commemorate the anniversary and highlight an unusual case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague.

In March, the Marshall Islands — a small former US colony in the Pacific Ocean — filed cases against all the world’s nuclear-armed states, including the UK, at the International Court, arguing that they had not made enough progress towards total disarmament, as required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968.

Patricia Pulham, from Christian CND, explained that the Marshall Islands had taken the case because many of their atolls were the site of dozens of atomic-bomb tests during the Cold War, leaving behind a legacy of health problems for some islanders.

Mrs Pulham said: “We want to draw attention to the fact that this tiny nation of the Marshall Islands has taken Britain to the ICJ to accuse it of not having kept its promises in the NPT.” In the Treaty, non-nuclear states promised not to acquire them, while the countries that already had them agreed to draw down gradually their stockpiles and eventually relinquish them entirely.

Christian CND’s stall on Saturday was adorned with a slogan proclaiming that they “stand with the victims of nuclear war, nuclear testing [and] deterrence”. After a short interfaith prayer service, the Christian CND activists joined the main CND event.

The Marshall Islanders were not after compensation, but to protect other nations in the future from the impact of nuclear weapons, Mrs Pulham said.

Of the nine nuclear-weapons states named in the Marshall Islands case, only the UK, India, and Pakistan have proceeded to the preliminary stage at the Hague. When it began in April, Marshall Islanders told the court how the fallout from testing still cast a shadow today.

“I can just go down the list of my wife’s family — almost every Marshall Islander out here can do this: my wife’s mother died of cancer of the uterus, my wife’s uncle died of thyroid cancer,” Jack Niedenthal, a representative from the Bikini Atoll, said.

Another islander, Tony de Brum, told the court that he watched one of the first tests as a nine-year-old boy while fishing with grandfather. “The entire sky turned blood red,” he said, adding that some atolls were entirely “vaporised” in the explosions.

Besides commemorating the Hiroshima bombing, and highlighting the Marshall Islands’ case, Mrs Pulham said that the CND continued to fight against Trident renewal in the UK.

Despite the recent vote in Parliament to replace the current submarine-based system, she said that the campaigners did not despair. “We weren’t terribly surprised by it. There are many other things happening in the world to keep things in check.”

The Marshall Islands case is expected to take several years before coming to a resolution.

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