On February 3, 2015, the U.S. Federal District Court granted the U.S. government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the Marshall Islands. The lawsuit sought to hold the U.S. to its legal obligations to pursue negotiations in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament.
The Court dismissed the case on the jurisdictional grounds of standing and political question doctrine without getting to the merits of the case. On February 6, 2015, the U.S. Embassy in Majuro issued a statement welcoming the Court’s decision. On February 23, 2015, Foreign Minister Tony de Brum, of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), delivered a speech to the RMI parliament in which he explained some of the key issues in the ruling and also responded to the U.S. Embassy’s statement.
De Brum made it clear that the RMI was disappointed by the Court’s decision and plans to appeal it to a higher court. He stated, “Nuclear weapons are not our friend, nor the friend of the U.S. or any other country. Rather, these weapons are the enemy of all humankind. That is why we will stand up for what we believe in, and we will be appealing the Court’s dismissal of the lawsuit to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the next step in the American judicial process.”
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De Brum explained that the U.S. did not argue the case on the merits, but rather sought dismissal on jurisdictional grounds, claiming that the RMI did not have standing to bring the lawsuit and that the case was subject to the political question doctrine.
With regard to standing, de Brum said that as a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the RMI does have standing to bring this case against other NPT parties that are not fulfilling their obligations, including the U.S. He argued that the Court’s decision creates precedent that parties to treaties with the U.S. do not have legal recourse in U.S. courts.
Regarding the political question doctrine, the Court held that it was up to the Executive and not the Court to fulfill (or, implicitly, decide not to fulfill) its legal obligations to negotiate in good faith for nuclear disarmament. The Court’s ruling would leave the disarmament obligation in the hands of the branch of government that has failed to fulfill the U.S. obligation for 45 years.
The Court cited President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons. De Brum agreed, “The RMI welcomes this reassertion of President Obama’s vision. We share this vision. That is why we implore the U.S. to honor its binding NPT Article VI obligations, namely negotiations in good faith relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament.”
David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), a consultant to the RMI in its lawsuits, stated, “It’s encouraging to hear the resolve of the Marshall Islands in Minister de Brum’s remarks. This tiny Pacific Island nation is taking a stand for all humanity. They are bold and courageous, and they know they are right in pressing the nuclear-armed countries to fulfill their legal obligations. I admire the persistence and spirit of the people of the Marshall Islands.”
The RMI also remains engaged in the three lawsuits for which there is compulsory jurisdiction at the International Court of Justice – those against India, Pakistan and the UK. To learn more about the Nuclear Zero lawsuits, go to nuclearzero.org.
To read the full statement by Minister de Brum, click here.