The UN’s highest court on Wednesday threw out a bid by the tiny Marshall Islands to sue India for failing to halt the nuclear arms race, saying it lacked jurisdiction. “The court upholds the objection to jurisdiction raised by India… and finds that it cannot proceed to the merits of the case,” judge Ronny Abraham told the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
After the hearings at the tribunal based in The Hague, the Marshalls said it will now “study the ruling” which is final and without appeal. “Obviously it’s very disappointing,” Marshall Islands lawyer Phon van der Biesen told reporters.
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With a population of less than 70,000 people, Marshall Islands had said in March that the world’s nine nuclear weapons states have violated various obligation to negotiate in good faith to dismantle their nuclear arsenals. In a landmark 1996 advisory opinion, the court said that using or threatening to use nuclear arms would “generally be contrary to” the laws of war and humanitarian law.
Marshall Islands was a US protectorate until 1986. It was the site of 67 nuclear tests by 1958, the health impacts of which linger to this day. Marshallese minister Tony deBrum had said that several islands in the country were vapourised and others are estimated to remain uninhabitable for thousands of years. He described seeing the sky ‘aflame’ from a test 200 miles away as a nine-year-old boy.
“Many died, suffered birth defects never before seen and battled cancer from the contamination,” he added.
The other nuclear powers – including declared powers China, France, Russia and the United States and undeclared nuclear states Israel and North Korea have not responded to the suit the islands filed last year. Lawyer for the Marshall Islands Phon van den Biesen had opined earlier, “It is a shame that the other six nuclear armed states have decided that for them there was no need to respond.” “Once the threshold to the use of nuclear weapons is crossed, the law will be a joke and justice will be just a relic of the past,” Biesen had said.