Marshall Islands calls on UN to acknowledge past history on nuclear testing

26 September 2011

The United Nations has 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, the country’s Foreign Minister said today.

John Silk told the General Assembly, which is holding its annual general debate, that the UN has “a clear responsibility” to tackle the consequence of testing undertaken during the early years of the Cold War.

In the 1950s 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.

Mr. Silk 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.”

Last year the General Assembly called for a report from the Secretary-General on the effects of atomic radiation in the Marshall Islands.

But Mr. 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.

“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.”

News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

Nuclear safety action plan endorsed at UN conference in Vienna

The general conference of the United Nations atomic energy agency today unanimously endorsed an action plan on nuclear safety that is intended to enhance transparency in the ongoing global effort to set effective safety standards.