A “durable solution” has yet to be found to the displacement of communities affected by nuclear testing more than sixty years ago in the Marshall Islands, a UN independent expert warned.
“I have listened to the concerns and stories of affected communities from Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik. As a result of the nuclear testing, all of these communities have suffered dislocation, in one form or another, from their indigenous way of life,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights obligations related to environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste, Calin Georgescu.
From 1946 to 158, some 67 nuclear weapons tests were carried out in the Marshall Islands, which were then administered by the United States under trusteeship arrangements with the UN.
Nomads in Their Own Country, with Long-term Health Effects
Georgescu, who recently finished the first fact-finding mission to the Marshall Islands by special rapporteur, said many communities “feel like ‘nomads’ in their own country and many have suffered long-term health effects,” according to a UN report.
Marshall Islands is a Micronesian nation of atolls and islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
As of July 2011 the population was 67,182, living on a total area of 181 km2. In 1986, Marshall Islands achieved independence under the Compact of Free Association with the United States.
The expert underlined the need for strategic and long-term measures to tackle the consequences of the nuclear testing programme to ensure sustainable progress and cope with the specific challenges posed by climate change in the country.
Urgent Need ways to Redress the Situation
He urged the Government of the Marshall Islands, the United States and the international community to find effective ways to redress the situation for those affected.
“The affected communities are searching for solutions, but are yet to feel that they have been restored to a position that is any way equivalent to the life they and their families lived before this dislocation,” Georgescu said.
“Each of the communities from these four affected atolls has a unique history in relation to the nuclear testing and each needs its own solutions.”
Georgescu stressed that education will be key for the long-term survival of the country, as there will be an increasing need to sustainably preserve the cultural and environmental heritage of the country, including the Bikini Atoll which has been declared a World Heritage site by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Georgescu is due to present his final report to the Human Rights Council in September.
On 26 September 2011, Marshall Island Foreign minister John Silk told the UN General Assembly that the UN failed to accept the consequences of the decisions it took on nuclear testing in the 1950s, and the people of the Marshall Islands are still paying the penalty physically and psychologically.
Silk stressed that the UN has “a clear responsibility” to tackle the consequence of testing undertaken during the early years of the Cold War.
He said the explosions were carried out despite the petitioning of the UN by Marshallese leaders to end the testing programme, adding that the world body had given assurances of the local population’s protection.
“For decades Marshallese leaders have returned to the United Nations to speak of the continuing impacts – cancer, fear and continued exile from our homelands – and of a science where goalposts are always moving.”
UN Not “to Remain Controlled by History, and Make Excuses”
In 2012, the General Assembly called for a report from the Secretary-General on the effects of atomic radiation in the Marshall Islands.
But Silk said the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), which was invited to contribute to the assembling of the report, had deemed the Assembly’s mandate to be inappropriate and in need of correction.
“This is not only insensitive, but reveals that perhaps the UN itself has yet to come to terms, or even to merely acknowledge, its decisions on nuclear safety taken 60 years ago.” This negative approach could preclude efforts to bring to the attention of this body important scientific work that has been done in assessing the consequences of the nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, he said.
“It is our hope that the UN will have the courage and will to rise above the past and make a difference, rather than to allow itself to remain controlled by history, and make excuses.”
*Photo: Shipping Lane Patrol Kwajalein Island (Marshall Islands-April 1945). By: Thorpe, Clell [photographer]. Source | Wikimedia Commons