Today is the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior by the French secret service in Auckland’s Marsden Wharf. It is the day we remember our colleague Fernando Pereira who was killed in the attack. He was just 35.
The bombing was personally authorised by then French president François Mitterrand and was intended to prevent Greenpeace from leading protests against French nuclear weapons testing on the Moruroa Atoll.
Just three months before its sinking, the Warrior helped evacuate 300 residents of the Rongelap Atoll in the Marshall Islands as part of Operation Exodus.
The islanders were escaping from the deadly radioactive contamination – the legacy of years of US nuclear testing – which had caused radiation sickness and birth defects in their children. This was despite reassurance from the US government that Rongelap was clean and safe.
Successive US governments’ moral duty to the islanders and the Marshall Islands has fallen woefully short since the days of its atomic testing. The people’s rights and health were secondary to nuclear weapons.
In 1982, a policy was secretly established by the energy department during the closing phase of negotiations between the United States and the nascent Republic of the Marshall Islands over the Compact of Free Association to eliminate radiation protection standards, so as to not interfere with the potential resumption of weapons testing. This resulted in a sudden and alarming increase in radiation doses to the Rongelap people eating local food.
Then there’s the radioactive test dump on Runit which is cracking despite being just 30 years old and designed to protect waste that will be dangerous for thousands of years. The US Department of Energy has declared ‘the US has no formal custodial responsibilities for the site’.
And now the US government is washing it hands of the people of the Marshall Islands. Aid, funding and compensation are being cut off and forced returns to the contaminated islands are being contemplated.
This year, the 25th year since Rongelap Islanders’ voluntarily evacuated their radioactive island, they are facing a U.S. ultimatum – move back to Rongelap in 2011 or face cutoff of funding support for the community at Mejatto Island in Kwajalein Atoll.
‘The U.S. provided Rongelap Atoll Local Government with a US$45 million resettlement trust fund to finance cleanup and rehabilitation work on Rongelap Island’. Just US$45 million. That’s 0.2 per cent of the US’s £25 billion nuclear weapons expenditure and only 0.007 per cent of the country’s total military budget. Is the US government doing this to save money or face? Do they hope the people of the Marshall Islands will be forgotten?
Like Fernando and the Rainbow Warrior, we must remember the Marshall Islanders.