UN’s highest court rejects epic Marshall Islands nuclear case

6/10/16; The Hague; AFP – Top UN court to decide fate of Marshalls epic nuclear case Share Tweet Email

The UN’s highest court on Wednesday narrowly threw out landmark cases brought by the tiny Marshall Islands against India, Pakistan and Britain for allegedly failing to halt the nuclear arms race.
In majority and sharply divided decisions, a 16-judge bench at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled there was no evidence that Majuro had a prior dispute with any of the three nuclear giants or had sought negotiations on the issue.
“The court upholds the objection to jurisdiction” raised by each of the countries, presiding judge Ronny Abraham said in separate rulings, and therefore the tribunal “cannot proceed to the merits of the case.”
The tiny Pacific island nation, with a population of 55,000, was ground zero for a string of devastating nuclear tests on its pristine atolls between 1946-58, carried out by the United States as the Cold War arms race gathered pace.
After the hearings, the Marshalls said it will now “study the ruling” which is final and without appeal.
“Obviously it’s very disappointing,” Marshall Islands lawyer Phon van den Biesen told reporters. “It’s a dispute that is clear to all of the world except for the judges here,” he said, outside the courtroom in the ICJ’s historic headquarters in the Peace Palace in The Hague.
– ‘Sky turned blood-red’
Initially in 2014, Majuro had accused nine countries of failing to comply with the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which seeks to inhibit the spread of atomic bombs.
But the ICJ already refused to take up cases against the other countries — China, France, Israel, North Korea, Russia and the United States — as they have not recognised the court’s jurisdiction. Israel has also never formally admitted to having nuclear weapons.
The Marshall Islands argued that by not stopping the nuclear arms race Britain, India and Pakistan had breached obligations under the treaty — even if New Delhi and Islamabad have not signed it. At a poignant March hearing, Majuro’s lawyers painted a vivid picture of the horrors caused by 67 nuclear tests notably the atolls of Bikini and Enewetak.
“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, told the court. “The entire sky turned blood-red,” said deBrum, who was nine when he witnessed the blasts.
Judge Abraham noted the archipelago, “by virtue of the suffering which its people endured as a result of it being used as a site for extensive nuclear testing, has special reasons for concern about nuclear disarmament.” “But that fact does not remove the need to establish that the conditions for the court’s jurisdiction are met,” Abraham said.
– ‘Horrific weapons’
The so-called “Operation Castle” tests in March and April 1954 were particularly devastating and resulted in massive contamination due to nuclear fall-out.
The NPT commits all nuclear weapon states “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date.”
Critics had argued however that the ICJ action was a distraction as the islanders’ real fight was with Washington. They contended the case was unrelated to the victims’ claims for increased compensation, better health care and clean-ups to render the sites habitable again.
The islands hoped however to reignite the debate over the disarmament talks, which have stalled over the past two decades.
“The Marshall Islands decided to bring these cases because they come from a notion that in the end nuclear weapons are the most horrific weapons on earth,” said Majuro’s lawyer Van den Biesen.
Experts told AFP there had always been a possibility the case could “backfire”.
“That it happened this early is certainly very disappointing for them and the whole nuclear disarmament movement,” said Joris Larik, senior researcher at The Hague Institute for Global Justice. “But it also shows that small island nations are looking for smart ways to play a role on the global stage. Sometimes they succeed and in a case like this, perhaps not so much.”


UN, Nuclear, Marshall Islands


Russia suspends US joint nuclear energy research

6/10/16; Moscow AFP on October 6, 2016, 8:57 am Share Tweet Email

Russia said Wednesday it was suspending joint research on nuclear energy projects with the United States, as Moscow’s standoff with the West shows no sign of abating.
The Russian foreign ministry said Moscow could “no longer trust Washington in such a sensitive sphere”.
The move came after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered a halt to an agreement with the US on weapons-grade plutonium disposal in retaliation for Washington’s “unfriendly actions”.
Tensions have surged between the two powers after Washington suspended talks on a ceasefire in Syria over Moscow’s continuing bombing campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
On Wednesday, the Russian government published orders signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and dated Tuesday calling for the “suspension” of a 2013 agreement on cooperation in scientific research and development in the nuclear and energy spheres.
Russia said this was a response to the US regularly extending sanctions over Ukraine, including by restricting cooperation on nuclear energy.
The foreign ministry said in a statement that the US had already “practically frozen coooperation” and that “in this situation, the Russian side is suspending the fulfilment of agreement in answer to the unfriendly actions of the US.”
The government said that in the current situation it was inadvisable to “allow American citizens into Russian nuclear installations” as well as to permit direct cooperation between Russian and US research institutions.
The suspension included an agreement between Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom and the US Department of Energy to study converting Russian research reactors to use low-enriched uranium, Moscow said.
The foreign ministry in its statement said that “we can no longer trust Washington in such a sensitive sphere as modernisation and ensuring the safety of Russian nuclear installations”.
If Russia decides to convert research reactors to use low-enriched uranium, “we will carry out this work by ourselves,” the ministry said.
In fact, cooperation “has been dormant for two years,” a spokesman for Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom told TASS state news agency, with no new contracts planned.


Russia, USA, Nuclear


The Holy Land Five (1)

5/10/16; Human Rights, Politics, United States

The controversial trial of leaders of the Holy Land Foundation, deemed a ‘terrorist organisation’ by the US government – Soon after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, the largest Muslim charity in the United States – the Holy Land Foundation – was shut down, its assets frozen and five of its senior staff arrested by the FBI.
The charity was founded in California in 1989 and provided aid to a number of Palestinian causes. It also offered help to refugee communities in Jordan, Lebanon and other needy people across the Middle East and the rest of the world.
Imagine if you were a juror in Texas and your president – from Texas – has already told you that this is a terrorist group and that they are training kids to come and kill you. What kind of impact would that have? Yes, it had an impact. Bob Ray Sanders, journalist, Star-Telegram
As the charity grew and revenue increased, claims emerged against the foundation.
The 1990s saw groups like the Anti-Defamation League and politicians such as the former Governor of New York City, Eliot Spitzer, and former Congressman Anthony Wiener lobby against the charity.
These groups appealed to the Clinton administration to shut down the charity, but failed. The US government eventually responded to similar accusations, allegedly made by the state of Israel.
The claims made were that the charity was a front for an illegal money-laundering operation, diverting funds to Hamas via zakat committees in the Occupied West Bank. Hamas, in turn, had been designated “a terrorist organisation” by the US government.
“It was a huge record that the government created, an administrative record – and it was basically garbage. It was newspaper articles, interviews that were translated from Arabic to Hebrew to English,” says Nancy Hollander, one of the lawyers defending Shukri Abu Baker, a founder of the foundation. “And we discovered when we did our own translations that their translations were completely wrong, that the government was relying on information that was completely false. But it didn’t matter.”
The five foundation founders were charged with providing “material support” to Hamas. During the first trial in 2007, their defence team struggled to deal effectively with two secret expert witnesses called by the prosecution whose “evidence” was not shared in advance. Nonetheless, the jury failed to agree on the charges brought against them and the judge declared a mistrial.
“More than 8,000 documents and the United States government didn’t have a single American document that condemns the Holy Land Foundation. They might have had circumstantial evidence or doubts, but the only evidence was Israeli. And these documents were forged,” says journalist Osama Abu Irshaid.
The former US Consul General in Jerusalem also points out that the US Agency for International Development funded the same zakat committees named in the indictment of the foundation and continued to do so for three years after the charity was shut down.
The Holy Land Five is a two-part documentary looking at the controversial trial of the Holy Land Foundation leaders. The films use interviews with defence and prosecution lawyers, family members, phone calls with the men themselves in jail – and reconstruction of court proceedings, to examine the case against the five men.

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/aljazeeraworld/2016/10/holy-land-foundation-hamas-161004083025906.html; Source: Al Jazeera

Israel; USA


Gaza’s women flotilla ‘challenging Israel’s blockade'(2)

6//11/ 16 Al Jazeera Staff

As the flotilla approaches Gaza shores, one crew member reflects on the journey. Wendy Goldsmith, a Canadian member on board the all-female flotilla currently making its way to the besieged Gaza Strip, provided the below update to Al Jazeera’s Laura Burdon Manley. – I am on board the Zaytouna, but not as a crew member. I was expecting to be crew on the Amal II for the first two legs from Barcelona to Ajaccio and from Ajaccio to Messina, but ultimately the Amal II suffered engine trouble and could not sail.
My role is as an organiser and the flotilla is expected to reach Gaza early on Wednesday October 5. We all hope that we will break the blockade and celebrate on the shores of Gaza, but in reality, we know that our ships will probably be intercepted by Israeli forces and we will be illegally detained.
As we made our way to Sicily aboard the Zaytouna, amid rolling waves and blue skies, a school of dolphins cheerfully keeps us company. Today marks a sharp contrast to our first leg of the trip, from Barcelona to the French island community of Ajaccio.
High winds and massive waves kept us all hunkered down below, wondering when the seasickness would end. The waves were quite high at times, sparking fear among some of the women. Most of us took medicine to help reduce the sickness, but a few still have not got their sea legs.
The 13 women participating on this leg of the journey hail from a variety of countries: Norway, Sweden, Australia, Egypt, Tunisia, Malaysia, Israel, the United States and Canada.
As we sail, we are enjoying the time to learn about each other – to understand why we have come together, and what this mission means to each of us. Although we come from very diverse backgrounds and experiences, the great equalizer is our desire for justice, peace and freedom for Gaza.
We all hope that we will break the blockade and celebrate on the shores of Gaza, but in reality, we know that our ships will probably be intercepted by Israeli forces and we will be illegally detained
My favourite time is during the night watch. One of us must stay up with a crew member during the sleeping hours to help keep watch. It is during these intimate midnight hours that the most profound sharing occurs.
With just ourselves, our souls and the endless dark sea, no one can hide from the truth. Through this experience, we have made profound bonds and gained a deep sense of connectivity, despite our differences.
Everything takes three times more effort and infinite patience on little Zaytouna. I am learning about my threshold for living in a small space with little privacy, managing difficult emotions that range from fear to frustration at not being able to stand up without flying into a door, the stove, or a shipmate.
I often think of my three children, all teenagers, who reluctantly gave me their blessing to join this mission. I am very proud of them because they have taken the time to understand the importance of this project.

My oldest daughter, 19-year-old Maryemma, tucked a letter into my luggage telling me that she was proud of me and that she supported what I was doing. It is so important for me to have my children’s blessing. They have safe, happy, privileged lives, which allows me to do this work.
‘Our minds always turn to the resilience of the women in Gaza’ – Laura Burdon-Manley; Al Jazeera
They understand that people suffer all over the world, and that by saying nothing, we are all complicit in crimes against humanity.
We cook together in our tiny kitchen, sharing recipes and traditions. When the Zaytouna bumps up against a wave and our dishes go flying, we cannot help but laugh and start again. We all know that where we are going, there are many more hardships than this.
Explained: The Gaza blockade
We know that on pr evious missions, such as the Mavi Marmara, peaceful activists were killed and badly injured. We know that there are many risks.
At night, under the full moon, we sing songs, share stories about peaceful resistance, and talk about our families. Laughter is a welcome companion. We recognise how blessed we are to be able to make this journey.
During our many conversations, our minds always turn to the resilience of the women in Gaza, who are raising their families in what has been described as the world’s largest open-air prison.
We have set our course to challenge Israel’s illegal blockade and to bring messages of hope to Gaza.

Read More; Women’s flotilla to Gaza is more than mere symbolism

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/gaza-women-flotilla-challenging-israel-blockade-161005054451009.html Source: Al Jazeera News

Israel Blockade


White House rails against Israel’s settlement project in West Bank (3)

6/10/16; AFP in Washington

Obama administration warns that decision jeopardizes the already distant prospect of Middle East peace as well as Israel’s own security – At last week’s funeral for former president Shimon Peres, Obama pointedly spoke about the ‘unfinished business of peace’.
The White House has accused Israel of a betrayal of trust, in an unusually sharp rebuke over its plans to build hundreds of new settlement homes deep in the West Bank.
Days after Obama approved a $38bn Israeli military aid package and attended former president Shimon Peres’s funeral in Jerusalem, the White House railed at the construction of 300 housing units on land “far closer to Jordan than Israel”.
Shimon Peres funeral: Obama evokes ‘unfinished business’ of peace talks
Warning that the decision jeopardizes the already distant prospect of Middle East peace as well as Israel’s own security, press secretary Josh Earnest said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s word had been called into question.
“We did receive public assurances from the Israeli government that contradict this announcement,” he said. “I guess when we’re talking about how good friends treat one another, that’s a source of serious concern as well.”
The sharper-than-normal comments come as the White House weighs a last-ditch effort to get the peace process back on its feet before Obama leaves office in January.
While serious talks seem unlikely, US officials are weighing the possibility of a major speech outlining the parameters for peace. Peace efforts have been comatose since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.
A sharper tone over settlements now could help put Israel on notice that future ties are at risk and give Washington more credibility with Palestinians and their Arab allies.
In a similarly strong-worded statement, the state department said building the units “is another step toward cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation.”
The plan not only undermines hopes for peace with the Palestinians but “is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state”, spokesman Mark Toner argued.
Washington has long opposed Israel’s policy of building Jewish settlements on land in the West Bank that would be claimed by the Palestinians in any negotiated “two state” peace deal.
US officials have adopted a more forceful tone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in recent weeks, accusing it of recklessly accelerating the program despite international concern.
The Middle East Quartet – a contact group comprising the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations – issued a report in July calling on Israel to halt settlement building.
But the practice has only accelerated since then, Washington says, with new housing blocks being approved, local administrative boundaries moved and illegal settlements retroactively approved.
Washington has condemned a recent deadly wave of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and police, urging Palestinian leaders to refrain from incitement or provocative language.
Obama and Netanyahu have had an extremely difficult relationship during the last eight years.
The White House was apoplectic when the Israeli leader agreed to address the Republican-controlled Congress to lobby against Obama’s signature nuclear deal with Iran.
There were fresh tensions when Netanyahu – seeking re-election at the time – said that Palestinians would never get their own state on his watch.
Some considered that pandering to right-wing voters, others said it was Netanyahu showing his true colors.
At last week’s funeral for former president Shimon Peres, Obama pointedly spoke about the “unfinished business of peace”. “He believed that the Zionist idea would be best protected when Palestinians, too, had a state of their own,” he said of the late elder statesman. “Of course, we gather here in the knowledge that Shimon never saw his dream of peace fulfilled.”


Israel, USA, Palestine