US drones have maimed and killed thousands of people in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. This year alone there have been over 333 drone strikes in Afghanistan.
Now US peace activists are holding demonstrations to oppose drone warfare and demand that Guantanamo prison be closed. Below are some actions that are near enough for Canadian activists to join.
Peggy Mason is the new president of the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute, with Steven Staples becoming the new vice president. Mason served as Canada’s ambassador for disarmament from 1989 through 1994. Since then she has worked on various aspects of UN peacekeeping training.
The United States tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands between 1946 to 1958, including the “Bravo” shot—a 15-megaton bomb equivalent to 1,300 Hiroshima blasts. Although evacuated, the inhabitants of two of the islands were exposed to radiation and have suffered major birth defects, including “jelly fish babies” born with transparent skin and no bones. The overall health effects of the tests for Marshall Islanders is still a matter of contention. In the late 1950s one in three births there resulted in fetal deaths. Hepatitis B and liver cancer are about 30 times higher in the Marshalls than in the US and cervical cancer is 60 times higher. Life expectancy has declined to 40 years. Some communities suffered so much that they decided to stop reproducing and go extinct.
But instead, now the Republic of the Marshall Islands is fighting back by filing a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. They are suing all nine states that own nuclear weapons for failing to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. They are also suing the US in the US Federal District Court, so the US case will be heard domestically as well.
The nuclear states were not informed in advance and several of them must have been surprised by the nature of the case. In addition to the five “official” nuclear weapons states—the US, UK, Russia, China, and France—the suit also charges four states which are not signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT): India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.
Indeed, Israel has never officially acknowledged even possessing nuclear weapons, and will no doubt claim exemption from any obligations to adhere to the NPT. The remarkable thing about this case is that it will try to force these four countries to adhere to the same disarmament obligations as if they had accepted the treaty.
The lawsuit charges these four states with violating international customary law. This accusation is unprecedented, but it does reflect a belief on the part of an increasing number of international legal experts that the NPT, because it is nearly universally accepted, should be treated as a part of customary international law. That would mean that all states must abide by it, whether or not they have actually signed the treaty. The suit accuses all the nuclear weapons states of a “flagrant denial of human justice.”
The five NPT-signatory nuclear weapons states had pledged to disarm under Article VI of the treaty, but instead are currently modernizing their nuclear weapons, which according to the lawsuit, is a clear violation of the NPT.
It is uncertain whether the ICJ will hear testimony from civil society organizations, but there are certainly many who want to support the Marshall Islanders’ case. For the first time, humanitarian factors may be presented as evidence for nuclear disarmament.
“Public Policy and the Environment,” Class blog for PSCI 3206 University of Colorado at Boulder; Avner Cohen and Lily Vaccaro in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 2014.