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Dismissal of the Marshall Islands’ Nuclear Zero Cases – International Court of Justice

Courtesy, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy eNews November 2016

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Nicholas Grief, Laurie Ashton, Luigi Condorelli, and Phon van den Biesen of the Marshall Islands’ legal team at the Peace Palace in The Hague on October 5. Photo AFP/Bart Maat.

Dismissal of the Marshall Islands’ Nuclear Zero Cases
On October 5, by narrow margins, the International Court of Justice dismissed the three nuclear disarmament cases brought by the Marshall Islands against India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. The Court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction because no legal dispute existed when the Marshall Islands filed applications initiating the cases in April 2014. In the UK case, the judges were divided eight to eight, with the vote of the Court’s president breaking the tie; in the India and Pakistan cases, the vote was nine to seven.
As the dissenting judges observed, the ruling ignores the fact that the Marshall Islands’ claims were rooted in longstanding opposing views of the large majority of the world’s states, on the one side, and the states possessing nuclear arsenals, on the other, regarding whether the latter states are complying with the Court’s unanimous conclusion in its 1996 Advisory Opinion that there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and conclude negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects. (See John Burroughs’ assessment of the opinion in Arms Control Today on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of its release.) The ruling also gave insufficient weight to the Marshall Islands’ articulation of claims in multilateral forums prior to bringing the cases and to the opposing positions taken by the Marshall Islands and the respondent states in the proceedings after the cases began.

LCNP salutes the courage and determination, rooted in tragic experience, and the good faith as well, of the Marshall Islands and its then Foreign Minister Tony deBrum in bringing the cases. Simply doing so raised to world attention the failure of the nuclear powers to fulfill the obligation to negotiate the global elimination of nuclear weapons. LCNP also commends the hard work of the Marshall Islands’ international legal team. The Marshall Islands’ pleadings are a rich resource for the development of political and legal arguments for disarmament.

For more on the outcome, see this Arms Control Today story, this Nuclear Age Peace Foundation press release, and the case pages at www.icj-cij.org. See also Burroughs’ appreciation of the Marshall Islands and deBrum in remarks at an August rally at the Livermore nuclear weapons laboratory in California.

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