Environment & Health World

Marshall Islands official who challenged China and other nuclear powers wins ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’

A Pacific island state foreign minister who challenged the world’s nuclear powers through unprecedented legal action has won the 2015 Right Livelihood Award. The winner was announced in Stockholm at the Swedish Foreign Office International Press Centre on Thursday.

The award, which is also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, was given to Tony de Brum and the people of the Marshall Islands.

Mr de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, sought to hold all nine nuclear states responsible for their failure to abide by the provisions of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and customary international law by filing lawsuits in the International Court of Justice in 2014. Under the NPT, the weapon states pledged to disarm while non-weapon states promised to not acquire nuclear weapons.

Tony de Brum

Tony de Brum.

The small island nation, which – for 12 years – was a testing ground for US nuclear bombs, argued that it was “justified in taking the action because of the harm it suffered as a result of the nuclear arms race”, according to the Guardian.

As a result of the “Nuclear Zero lawsuits”, India, Pakistan and the UK have accepted the courts’ jurisdiction to hear the matter and are in the midst of court proceedings that may last two to three years. In the cases, the Marshall Islands have asked the Court to hold the states in breach of their obligations related to nuclear disarmament and to force them to comply, thus putting the weapons under strict and effective international control.

“Our people have suffered the catastrophic and irreparable damage of these weapons, and we vow to fight so that no one else on earth will ever again experience these atrocities,” de Brum said. “The continued existence of nuclear weapons and the terrible risk they pose to the world threaten us all.”

Tony de Brum

Tony de Brum with US Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern 2013. Photo: Public domain.

In addition to his efforts regarding nuclear disarmament, de Brum has led the drafting of the Marshall Islands’ constitution and advocated for its full independence before the UN Security Council, eventually resulting in the signing of the Compact of Free Association between Marshall Islands and the US in 1986. He has also sought to fight climate change by advocating for binding measures to be adopted in the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015.

Right Livelihood Award Laureates

Right Livelihood Award 2015.

The Awards were founded in 1980 and “honour courageous and effective solutions to secure human rights and respond to global crises”.

The award was given to ex-Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2014 “for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights.”

Other award laureates this year include Canada’s Sheila Watt-Cloutier for work in the Arctic, Uganda’s Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera for her advocacy on LGBTI rights, and Italy’s Gino Strada for his medical services to war victims.

Marshall Islands official who challenged China and other nuclear powers wins 'Alternative Nobel Prize'