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UN experts urge States to address human rights impact of nuclear testing

04 March 2024


International Day for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, 5 March 2024

GENEVA (4 March 2024) – Remembrance plays a crucial role in confronting the nuclear legacy, said UN human rights experts* ahead of the International Day for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation. They issued the following statement:

“From the Pacific to West Asia, from Central Asia to North Africa, the legacy of nuclear testing remains a global issue with far-reaching human rights implications amidst well-documented evidence of global fallout. These tests are also a painful reminder of a colonial past, with local impacts on non-self-governing and Indigenous peoples.

This month of March also marks the 70th anniversary of the Castle Bravo test in the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Between 1946 and 1958, 67 known nuclear weapons were tested in the Marshall Islands by the United States while it was under United Nations trusteeship.

As recognised by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 51/35, “toxic nuclear waste and nuclear radiation and contamination from decades ago continue to have an adverse impact on the human rights of the people of the Marshall Islands, including persons belonging to displaced communities” and on a wide range of their human rights, including their rights to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, to life, health, food, housing, water and their cultural rights.

Nuclear testing has not only affected and created impairments for the people who were exposed to nuclear radiation and waste at the time, with a disproportionate impact on women and girls, but continues to negatively impact the human rights of present and future generations.

Human rights conventions call for States to use the maximum of their available resources for the realisation of human rights and sustainable development. The Declaration on the Right to Development also reminds States to do their utmost to achieve general and complete disarmament.

In accordance with international standards, including the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation, guarantees of non-repetition of these tests must be put in place, as well as mechanisms for truth, accountability and reparation for the legacy of human rights violations that remain unaddressed.

Remembrance plays a pivotal role in confronting the nuclear legacy. By remembering past human rights violations, we pay tribute to their past and present victims.

The International Day for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation is a time for global reflection, but also a time for mobilisation. At a time when nearly 13,000 nuclear weapons are stockpiled in a world characterised by the proliferation of conflicts globally – some involving nuclear powers – we recall the repeated calls for general and complete disarmament.

As stated by the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons in 1996, States have 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".

The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons points the way forward in addressing the enduring challenges of nuclear legacy. We urge States to support the Treaty and its humanitarian provisions for victim assistance, environmental remediation and international cooperation.

Together, in the face of enduring nuclear legacies and ongoing conflicts, we must embrace disarmament and non-proliferation to ensure human rights for all and a sustainable future.”

*The experts: Marcos A. Orellana, Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights; Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Surya Deva, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on truth, justice and reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Claudia Flores, Ivana Krstić, Haina Lu, and Laura Nyirinkindi, Working group on discrimination against women and girls; Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing; Paula Gaviria Betancur, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

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