PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
MARSHALLS SUPPORT BIKINI LAWSUIT AGAINST U.S.
Embassy Of The Republic Of The Marshall Islands
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Yokwe Online, April 12) – The Republic of the Marshall Islands Government fully supports the action taken by the People of Bikini Atoll in filing suit in U. S. Federal Court on April 11, 2006. This action was necessary because of the possibility of the legitimate rights of the people of Bikini Atoll being foreclosed by a statute of limitations even as efforts to advance their concerns through political and diplomatic channels have stalled.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands has repeatedly attempted to bring the various unresolved issues arising from the effects of the nuclear testing program conducted by the United States in the Marshall Islands to the attention of the United States. When the United States sought to extend the provisions of the Compact of Free Association in 2001 to 2003, the Republic of the Marshall Islands requested that these issues be addressed in that context. The U.S. State Department insisted that those issues be deferred until later since the Section 177 Agreement provides that those issues were to be resolved by Congress.
While the Republic of the Marshall Islands is grateful for the actions by both Houses of the United States Congress in providing a forum for the Republic of the Marshall Islands to present its issues, and for the support of members of both the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives on these issues, time remains an implacable problem.
Following the hearing in the United States Senate last year, the Republic of the Marshall Islands had welcomed the offer from Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to convene a meeting of all the relevant Executive Branch agencies to address the nuclear testing related issues raised by the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The initial meeting led by the Republic of the Marshall Islands Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerald M. Zackios and U.S. Department of Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary David B. Cohen seemed promising, especially in light of a subsequent substantive meeting between President Note and Secretary Norton where the Secretary asked the Republic of the Marshall Islands to allocate the issues so that individual meetings could be scheduled to resolve them. Unfortunately, although the list was provided several months ago, no follow up meetings have been scheduled.
The people of Bikini Atoll have been extraordinarily patient. They left their homes to allow the United States to conduct its nuclear and thermonuclear testing program with a promise that they could return someday. The Bravo test unfortunately exposed the populations of Rongelap and Utrik as well as the populations of other atolls within the Marshall Islands to significant quantities of radioactive fallout.
[PIR editor’s note: Bikini Atoll, Rongelap Atoll, and Utirik Atoll are located in the northern part of the Marshall Islands.]
Several islands in the atoll were vaporized. Following the end of the testing program, the population of Bikini was informed that they could return and that their atoll was now safe. That promise was not to be fulfilled when monitoring disclosed that those who returned were absorbing high amounts of radiation and again the people of Bikini had to leave and wait.
When the Compact of Free Association was approved, rather than allowing the affected populations to pursue their claims for injury and loss of property in the United States courts, the United States proposed a Nuclear Claims Tribunal to resolve these issues. Whatever our assumptions and expectations may have been with the initial funding for the Tribunal, it has proved grossly inadequate. No less an authority than former United States Attorney General Richard Thornburgh concluded in an independent assessment of the Tribunal in 2003 that the Tribunal adhered to American standards of jurisprudence and that the funding available to compensate for private property damage and personal injury is "manifestly inadequate."
The Republic of the Marshall Islands will continue to pursue all available diplomatic options with the United States government and hopes that substantive meetings will soon commence on the individual subjects that the Republic of the Marshall Islands identified at the request of Secretary Norton. The Republic of the Marshall Islands does not believe that this action on behalf of the people of Bikini will foreclose those discussions. As we have stated, time is an implacable problem. Every day that passes makes these issues more difficult to resolve in a manner that is fair to the individuals who bore the burden of the nuclear testing program. Radiation related cancers go untreated for lack of diagnostic ability or treatment capability and resources; individuals entitled to compensation or benefits under existing laws, such as nuclear workers, die without receiving that compensation; and populations awarded compensation for the loss of their lands now face the possible termination of their awards due to the statute of limitations within the United States court system.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands fully supports the actions taken on April 11, 2006 by counsel for the population of Bikini Atoll. The Republic of the Marshall Islands does not view the action as adversarial nor as foreclosing in any manner our willingness and desire to meet with representatives of the various branches of the United States Government to discuss and resolve these outstanding issues in a way that provides justice and fairness to those who have suffered and in a manner commensurate with the mutual respect that our two Nations have for each other.
Ambassador Banny deBrum remarked, "We have been working non-stop for years now to find a political solution on these issues. The fact is that the Bikinians were forced to make a choice before time ran out. I fully support that choice. I also remain absolutely committed to seeking resolution on our other nuclear-related concerns."
April 13, 2006
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