UN Human Rights Council urges US to tackle Marshall Islands nuclear legacy

On October 7, 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on technical assistance and capacity building to address the human rights implications of the nuclear legacy in the Marshall Islands for which the United States is responsible. The resolution was adopted without a vote on the basis of consensus. The draft resolution was sponsored by a number of Pacific Island States and Australia.

The resolution “affirms the importance of addressing the negative impact of the nuclear legacy on the realization and enjoyment of human rights by the people of the Marshall Islands.”

Currently, the United States denies any responsibility for a horrific history of nuclear testing that nearly destroyed the Marshall Islands with 67 nuclear bomb explosions over a 12-year period. The nuclear legacy dates back to the 1940s and 1950s, with continued negative impacts up to today, 70 years later. The United States has committed systematic human rights abuses and has never reckoned with the past – until now, until it now seeks to rally the Pacific islands in a geopolitical race against China.

The US government claimed that the bilateral agreement between the United States and the Marshal Islands signed in 1986 settled “all claims, past, present and future”, including nuclear compensation. This position is unacceptable to the Marshall Islands who are now looking to the UN human rights body and the international community for support.

The resolution reads: “In 1986, the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Marshall Islands entered into bilateral agreements which provided for the settlement of all claims, past, present and future, arising from nuclear testing , and that the Marshall Islands has filed a petition for change of circumstances with the Congress of the United States of America pursuant to these bilateral agreements, which remains outstanding”.

The United Kingdom, which is also a nuclear power, opposed the Human Rights Council resolution, explaining that it does not consider that there is an international consensus on the legal basis of human rights law. to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. By extension, the UK does not accept the resolution’s link to nuclear weapons testing and the impact on human rights.

Earlier in September, the Biden administration brought together leaders of Pacific island nations at a summit in Washington DC. The Summit included the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands withdrew from renegotiations of the bilateral treaty that governs relations between the United States and the Marshall Islands, called the Compact of Free Association (COFA). The reason for this was the refusal of the United States to admit, apologize and compensate for the wrongdoings and rights violations resulting from American nuclear testing. The US government has argued that the Covenant signed in 1986 settles all claims – past, present and future. Unhappy with the outcome, following the summit in Washington in late September, the Marshall Islands turned to the UN Human Rights Council in October to raise their issues before the international community. It’s far from over for the Marshal Islands.

The United States and other nuclear powers are careful not to open the door to massive rights-based litigation that will be based on the right to a clean environment violated by the major nuclear powers. The Marshal Islands receive a huge setback. If the United States is looking for a way out, it must first acknowledge the appalling scale of human rights abuses in the Marshall Islands and must compensate the Marshallese who continue to suffer the consequences of nuclear testing every day. The renegotiation of the bilateral treaty will depend on it.

Previously, the UN Special Rapporteur visited the Marshall Islands in 2012, highlighting in a report the negative effect of the nuclear legacy on the enjoyment of human rights.

The Human Rights Council resolution now requests the Office of the High Commissioner to prepare a report on the challenges and obstacles to the full realization and enjoyment of the human rights of the people of the Marshall Islands, arising from the State’s nuclear legacy, which will be submitted to the Human Rights Council at its fifty-seventh session, which will be followed by an enhanced interactive dialogue, with the participation of the National Nuclear Commission of the Marshall Islands.

[The “Baker” explosion, a nuclear weapon test by the United States military at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands. Photo by United States Department of Defense.]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author..

About Madeline Dennis

Check Also

Atlanta Center for Civil and Human Rights receives major boost from Woodruff Foundation

By Maria Saporta When the National Center for Civil and Human Rights held a groundbreaking …