Mushroom Cloud
A representational image of a nuclear attack.Wikimedia Commons

The International Court of Justice, the judicial branch of the United Nations, is set to announce its verdict on whether or not it has jurisdiction to deliberate on a case brought by the pacific nation of Marshall Islands against India, Pakistan and the UK, for not taking steps for nuclear disarmament. The order will be announced on Wednesday.

Marshall Islands had sued UN Security Council's five permanent members - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea in April 2014 for failing "to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion, negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament." But because the other six countries had never acceded to the world court, ICJ only accepted cases against India, Pakistan and the UK. Oral proceedings for the same were held over four days in March.

The island nation has a long, bitter history with nuclear weapons as it was Ground Zero for 67 American nuclear weapons tests from 1946-1958 at Bikini and Enewetak Atoll, when it was under US administration. The tests included the 1954 "Bravo" hydrogen bomb that was about 1,000 times bigger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and is considered the most powerful ever detonated by the US. As a result, numerous islanders were forcibly evacuated from ancestral lands and resettled, while thousands were exposed to radioactive fallout.

"Several islands in my country were vaporised and others are estimated to remain uninhabitable for thousands of years," Tony deBrum, a former Marshall Islands Foreign Minister, was quoted as saying at an ICJ hearing earlier this year.

"The entire sky turned blood red. Many died, or suffered birth defects never before seen and cancers as a result of contamination," he added.

DeBrum launched Marshall Islands' ICJ action in 2014 with the help from California-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

India has four-fold objections to the ICJ's jurisdiction that were presented by its lawyers in their written and oral proceedings:

  • There is no dispute between the parties.
  • If, however, the court finds that there is a dispute, it could only be settled if at least, all the states possessing nuclear weapons and certainly more than one, were parties to the proceedings; this not being the case, the court can only decline to exercise jurisdiction.
  • Several reservations to India's optional declaration under Article 36 (2) bar the court's jurisdiction.
  • Any judgment rendered in these circumstances would be devoid of any concrete practical effect.

The verdict on the three cases is set to be announced at Peace Palace in Hague at 10 am local time (1.30 pm IST).

This is the first time that India has been involved in an ICJ case in 15 years, since the Indian government's lawyers successfully argued that the world court had no jurisdiction in cases filed by Pakistan over the shooting down of its naval aircraft by the Indian Air Force.