Reflecting on Marshall Islands’ Day of Remembrance

On Monday 1 March, Scottish CND supporters and friends of the Marshall Islands gathered to mark the Marshall Islands’ Day of Remembrance for the victims and survivors of nuclear tests.

The legacy of nuclear testing is a long and bitter one. The Marshall Islands, especially, have borne the brunt of 67 nuclear tests, carrying the scars of those tests on their bodies and on their lands. We heard stories and reflections on courage in the face of the most brutal adversity, and of a long and still-unanswered cry for justice. The recommendations of a UN Special Rapporteur’s 2012 report on the impact of nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands have not been addressed by the international community, almost a decade after they were first set out.

We were glad to welcome DPR Sam Lanwi, Deputy Permanent Representative to the Marshall Islands’ Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva, who spoke to us directly of the suffering and injustice experienced by the people of the Marshall Islands. The full text of DPR Lanwi’s speech can be read here. We are especially grateful to DPR Lanwi for his generosity in staying on after the event to answer questions and speak to supporters face-to-face about the human cost of nuclear testing.

DPR Lanwi told us: “Back home in our islands, we are commemorating today’s anniversary with the theme, “We Are Not Alone”. With this message, we are acknowledging the solidarity among other frontline communities in our shared journeys for justice and with this event, we are again reminded that we are not alone … The tragic events of the 1st of March 1954 will not be forgotten by the people of the Marshall Islands and we ask our friends in the global community to stand in solidarity with us not only on this occasion, but throughout our journey towards justice. We are committed to ensuring that our future generations are educated about our nuclear legacy so that they will continue to carry the stories of sacrifice and survival forward. We hope that they too will know that they are not alone.”

His words were met with solidarity on behalf of the people of Scotland. Bill Kidd MSP, Convener of the Cross-Party Group on Nuclear Weapons, acknowledged the grievous injustice done to the people of the Marshall Islands, and shared a little-known story of how close we in Scotland had been to the same fate — saved, not by any human consideration, but simply by mechanical failures. He offered a message to the people of the Marshall Islands on behalf of Scotland’s First Minister:

“Dear Deputy Permanent Representative Lanwi. Please convey my and the Scottish Government’s kindest good wishes to the People of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and to their Government. We here in Scotland admire the dignity and strength of the Marshallese People in the face of these many years of adversity through the loss of homeland, held so dear. The People of Scotland stand beside you as fellow human beings and wish you success in your work to achieve your human rights in what compensation is due to you for your loss over these many years.” 

It is impossible to come face-to-face with the reality of what has happened in the Marshall Islands, and not recognise the urgency of global nuclear disarmament, and the vital role of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in enabling us to achieve this — rooted, as it is, in the truth of the profound danger that nuclear weapons pose to our ordinary human lives and to the planet that sustains us.

The remembrance event included poetry, music and reflections from Scotland and from the Marshall Islands. Our heartfelt thanks to all those who spoke or performed, and to the small team of volunteers from Glasgow CND branch who put the event together. This short video , which is an excerpt from the full event, shows the commemorative tree planting held at Faslane Peace Camp, which will stand as a lasting, living memorial to the victims and survivors of nuclear tests. Their words explain why our solidarity is so necessary, and so powerful:

“Remembrance reaffirms our resolve to resist … This tree will exist as a testament to our condemnation of these nuclear tests, and our solidarity with those whose lives they have ravaged. The white blossoms in the spring will remind us that fairer days lie ahead, and that darkness always gives way to the light. The red berries in the autumn will provide food for birds, and remind us that all living things must live and work in harmony. The endurance of this tree through harsh conditions will inspire us to stand tall in the face of adversity. And beneath its canopy generations to come will learn about the Marshall Islands, and reflect on the lessons that fighting for a nuclear-free world has taught us.”