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  • By Bernadette Carreon, The Pacific Note

RMI still fighting for claims 70 years since the nuke tests

Mushroom cloud from the Operation Castle Bravo nuclear explosion in the Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands. Photo courtesy of the US Air Force

The member states of the recently concluded Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) held in Pohnpei have vowed to assist the Republic of the Marshall Islands in its efforts to get compensation from the United States for the nuclear testing conducted in the RMI during the Cold War.

From 1946 to 1958, the United States tested 67 nuclear weapons at its Pacific Proving Grounds located in the Marshall Islands, including the largest atmospheric nuclear test ever conducted by the U.S., code-named Castle Bravo. A United Nations report in 2012 said the effects were long-lasting, also noting that “near-irreversible environmental contamination” had led to the loss of livelihoods and many people continued to experience “indefinite displacement.” The report recommended that the U.S. extend extra compensation to settle claims filed by affected Marshall islanders.

The RMI has been pursuing its claims against the U.S. as the adverse health effects from the nuclear tests continue to linger.

In its joint communique issued after the meeting, the Pacific Islands Forum urged the U.S. to move “toward a justified fair and just resolution” to the U.S. Nuclear Testing Program. In addition, the PIF member states agreed to submit letters to the United States government urging the U.S. to take further action to “meaningfully address” the ongoing impacts resulting from the U.S. Nuclear Testing Program. In addition, PIF has asked the United Nations Secretary-General to seek action in response to the recommendations contained in the 2012 report of the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur for “the international community, including relevant United Nations departments, funds and agencies” to address the ongoing impacts of nuclear testing in the Pacific.

PIF leaders have already tasked the Forum Secretariat to coordinate assistance by Council of Regional Organizations in the Pacific (CROP) agencies to the Republic of the Marshall Islands in addressing ongoing impacts of nuclear testing, including, human rights, environmental contamination, and health impacts. Leaders also tasked the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General to report to the 48th Pacific Islands Forum on actions taken in this regard.

In its communique, the PIF leaders recalled that the Republic of the Marshall Islands was placed by the international community under the trusteeship of the United Nations administered by the U.S. “both of which therefore have ongoing obligations to encourage a final and just resolution for the Marshallese people.”

The PIF leaders also welcomed the recommendations in the Special Rapporteur’s report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2012.

The 16 nations comprising the Pacific Island Forum are: Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

According to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the Marshall Islands are "by far the most contaminated place in the world.”

Nuclear claims between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands are still ongoing. From 1956 to August 1998, at least $759 million was paid to the Marshallese Islanders in compensation for their exposure to U.S. nuclear weapon testing.

Daniel Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs who represented the U.S. in the PIF post-forum dialogue, said the U.S. is still continuing dialogue with the Marshall Islands on this matter.

The 47th Pacific Islands Forum was held in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia Sept. 8-10, 2016. Aside from the RMI’s nuclear claims, other issues tackled included oceans, regional mobility and harmonization of business practices as based on the tests for regionalism specified in the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

During the forum, the Pacific leaders also commended the progress made

in the implementation of the five priorities endorsed by the group in 2015. These priorities are: greater economic returns on fisheries and strengthening of maritime surveillance and enforcement; climate change; Information Communication Technologies; cervical cancer; and West Papua (Papua).

The Pacific leaders also commended the national and regional interagency coordination and cooperation of the various Pacific states in implementing the group’s priorities, including working with international organizations.

The next three Pacific Island Forums will be held in Samoa in 2017, Nauru in 2018, and Tuvalu in 2019.

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