Marshall Islands begins world court nuclear disarmament case

THE HAGUE, Netherlands - The tiny South Pacific state of the Marshall Islands began legal proceedings Monday against India at the United Nations' highest court, as part of cases against three of the world's nuclear powers aimed at breathing new life into disarmament negotiations.

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The preliminary hearings focus on whether the International Court of Justice can accept cases filed by the Marshall Islands, home to the Bikini Atoll nuclear testing site, against India, Pakistan and Britain - urging those powers to resume negotiations to eradicate the world's nuclear weapons stockpile.

Monday's hearing came on the day that North Korea warned of an indiscriminate "pre-emptive nuclear strike of justice" on Washington and Seoul, in reaction to the start of huge U.S.-South Korean military drills.

Marshall Islands representative Tony deBrum said he watched one of the U.S. nuclear tests in his home country as a 9-year-old boy while fishing with his grandfather.

"The entire sky turned blood red," he told judges. He said some of his country's islands were "vaporized" by the tests.

The Marshall Islands filed cases against all nine nations that have declared or are believed to possess nuclear weapons: The U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. But only the cases against Britain, India and Pakistan got to this preliminary stage of proceedings, because the other six declined to take part, the Marshall Islands' legal team said.

Cases against Pakistan and Britain start Tuesday and Wednesday. India will argue on Thursday that the court has no jurisdiction. A decision on whether the case can go ahead will likely take weeks or months.

The Marshall Islands argues that the nuclear powers are legally obliged to negotiate disarmament, but deBrum said that instead, India is working on "quantitative buildup and qualitative improvement of its nuclear arsenal."

It is not the first time the world court has been asked to rule on the issue of nuclear weapons. In a landmark 1996 advisory opinion, the court said that using or threatening to use nuclear arms would "generally be contrary to" the laws of war and humanitarian law.

But it added that it could not definitively rule on whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be legal "in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a state would be at stake."

The judges in 1996 also unanimously stated that there is a legal obligation "to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control."


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