FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Anniversary of World Court Advisory Opinion on the Use of Nuclear Weapons

The International Court of Justice (“Court,” or “ICJ”), the world’s highest court, issued its Advisory Opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons on July 8, 1996. Thus, this week marks the 20th anniversary of that momentous opinion.

The Court found in a split vote (7 to 7), with the casting vote of the Court’s president Mohammed Bedjaoui deciding the matter, that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be illegal under international law. The Court could not determine whether it would be legal or illegal to threaten or use nuclear weapons “in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”

Three of the judges voting to oppose general illegality, however, were concerned with the word “generally” and wanted the Court to go further and remove any ambiguity about the illegality of threat or use of nuclear weapons. Judge C.G. Weeramantry, for example, argued in a brilliant dissenting opinion “that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is illegal in any circumstances whatsoever.” Thus, in actuality, ten of the fourteen judges supported either general illegality or total illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons.

The Court also found unanimously that any threat or use of nuclear weapons must be compatible with the United Nations Charter and must also be compatible with the international law of armed conflict and particularly with “the principles and rules of international humanitarian law.” This means that the threat or use of nuclear weapons must be capable of distinguishing between combatants and civilians and must not cause unnecessary suffering. It is virtually impossible to imagine any use of nuclear weapons that could meet such limiting criteria.

Finally, the Court concluded, “There exists an 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.” Unfortunately, despite this obligation, such negotiations have not taken place in the past twenty years.

The tiny Pacific Island country, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, has cited the Court’s conclusion regarding this legal obligation in bringing contentious lawsuits against the nine nuclear-armed countries at the International Court of Justice and separately against the United States in U.S. federal court. In the ICJ, only the cases against the UK, India and Pakistan are currently going forward, since the other six nuclear-armed countries do not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court and have not opted to accept the Court’s jurisdiction in this matter.

The cases brought by the Marshall Islands in the ICJ are currently awaiting the Court’s ruling on preliminary objections filed by the three respondent countries. The case against the U.S. was dismissed in U.S. federal district court on jurisdictional grounds, and is currently on appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Nuclear weapons are devices of mass annihilation. The ICJ found these weapons to be generally illegal and to require good faith negotiations leading to total nuclear disarmament. All nine nuclear-armed countries are in breach of this obligation to the detriment of the people of the world, including the citizens of their own countries. The Republic of the Marshall Islands has had the courage to bring this matter back to the ICJ as contentious cases.

On the illegality of nuclear weapons, the then Court President, Mohammed Bedjaoui, stated: “Nuclear weapons, the ultimate evil, destabilize humanitarian law, which is the law of the lesser evil. The existence of nuclear weapons is therefore a challenge to the very existence of humanitarian law, not to mention their long-term effects of damage to the human environment, in respect to which the right to life can be exercised.”

On the 20th anniversary of the ICJ Advisory Opinion on threat or use of nuclear weapons, the people must wake up, stand up and speak out. Nuclear weapons are illegal as well as immoral and costly. They are not even weapons, but instruments of mass annihilation. They serve no useful purpose and endanger all countries, all people, and all future generations. It is past time to end the nuclear era.

More articles by:

David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). 

April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy
Vijay Prashad
Undermining Brazilian Democracy: the Curious Saga of Lula
Steve Fraser
Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red State America
John W. Whitehead
Crimes of a Monster: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Kenn Orphan
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Karl Grossman TJ Coles
Opening Pandora’s Box: Karl Grossman on Trump and the Weaponization of Space
Colin Todhunter
Behind Theresa May’s ‘Humanitarian Hysterics’: The Ideology of Empire and Conquest
Jesse Jackson
Syrian Strikes is One More step Toward a Lawless Presidency
Michael Welton
Confronting Militarism is Early Twentieth Century Canada: the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Alycee Lane
On David S. Buckel and Setting Ourselves on Fire
Jennifer Matsui
Our Overlords Reveal Their Top ‘To Do’s: Are YOU Next On Their Kill List?
George Ochenski
Jive Talkin’: On the Campaign Trail With Montana Republicans
Kary Love
Is It Time for A Nice, “Little” Nuclear War?
April 18, 2018
Alan Nasser
Could Student Loans Lead to Debt Prison? The Handwriting on the Wall
Susan Roberts
Uses for the Poor
Alvaro Huerta
I Am Not Your “Wetback”
Jonah Raskin
Napa County, California: the Clash of Oligarchy & Democracy
Robert Hunziker
America’s Dystopian Future
Geoffrey McDonald
“America First!” as Economic War
Jonathan Cook
Robert Fisk’s Douma Report Rips Away Excuses for Air Strike on Syria
Jeff Berg
WW III This Ain’t
Binoy Kampmark
Macron’s Syria Game
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
Katie Fite
Chaos in Urban Canyons – Air Force Efforts to Carve a Civilian Population War Game Range across Southern Idaho
Robby Sherwin
Facebook: This Is Where I Leave You
April 17, 2018
Paul Street
Eight Takeaways on Boss Tweet’s Latest Syrian Missile Spasm
Robert Fisk
The Search for the Truth in Douma
Eric Mann
The Historic 1968 Struggle Against Columbia University
Roy Eidelson
The 1%’s Mind Games: Psychology Gone Bad
John Steppling
The Sleep of Civilization
Patrick Cockburn
Syria Bombing Reveals Weakness of Theresa May
Dave Lindorff
No Indication in the US That the Country is at War Again
W. T. Whitney
Colombia and Cuba:  a Tale of Two Countries
Dean Baker
Why Isn’t the Median Wage for Black Workers Rising?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
C. L. Cook
Man in the Glass
Kary Love
“The Mob Boss Orders a Hit and a Pardon”
Lawrence Wittner
Which Nations Are the Happiest―and Why
Dr. Hakim
Where on Earth is the Just Economy that Works for All, Including Afghan Children?
April 16, 2018
Dave Lindorff
President Trump’s War Crime is Worse than the One He Accuses Assad of
Ron Jacobs
War is Just F**kin’ Wrong
John Laforge
Nuclear Keeps on Polluting, Long After Shutdown
Norman Solomon
Missile Attack on Syria Is a Salute to “Russiagate” Enthusiasts, Whether They Like It or Not
Uri Avnery
Eyeless in Gaza   
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Then, Syria Now
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail