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By Brooke Takala
As Nic McClellan reported last week from Apia, Prime Minister Sopoaga made public Tuvalu’s commitment to the Nuclear Ban Treaty (NBT). This was encouraging news considering Tuvalu – along with fellow Forum members FSM, Nauru, and Australia – did not show for the final NBT vote at the UN in July.
In a nod to the deep and painful history of nuclear activities in the Pacific, the Prime Minister referred to the “spirit” of the Rarotonga Treaty. More than the spirit of the treaty, it was spirit of unity and Pacific independence that underpinned the establishment of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone (SPNFZ). It is that same spirit that we call upon our leaders to conjure at the upcoming UN General Assembly and ratification of the Nuclear Ban Treaty on 20 September.
PM Sopoaga’s comments beg us to revisit past Forum meetings that were seminal in establishing the world’s second nuclear free zone in a populated region: Funafuti (1984), and Rarotonga (1985). Our Pacific leaders played a crucial role in establishing a nuclear free zone as a show of solidarity in opposition to colonization and the ongoing nuclear activities of France in Te Ao Maohi.
It was in Tuvalu that the draft treaty was adopted, and where Nauru proposed a prohibition of nuclear waste dumping in the Pacific by Japan. It was the foresight of our Forum leaders who, in 1984, saw a regional nuclear free zone as a means of “maintaining the momentum of international debate on disarmament and arms control.” The SPNFZ was supported by our Pacific neighbors from Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru – members of PCSP and the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which establishes Latin America and the Caribbean as nuclear free zones.
It was in Cook Islands the following year where “the Forum observed that endorsement of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty…reflected the deep concern of all Forum members at the continuing nuclear arms race and the risk of nuclear war.” The Rarotonga Treaty was signed at the 16th South Pacific Forum by Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Samoa, Fiji, Kiribati, and Niue. Nauru, PNG, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu ratified the treaty following their individual constitutional procedures. Combined, these 13 Pacific nations comprise more than one-quarter of the 50 signatures needed for a nuclear free world.
A Sea of Islands
Establishment of the SPNFZ showed the world that the Pacific, once staging ground for world war and more than 300 nuclear and thermonuclear bomb tests, was reclaimed as a place of peace. Not simply a ‘sea of islands’ as Epeli Hau’ofa said, but a nuclear free sea of islands.
We invoke the spirit of a Nuclear Free and Independent [Blue] Pacific as our leaders take their place on the world stage at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly – that very body established out of the Pacific theater of war, at a time when this region was perceived as simply ‘islands in a far sea.’
We Need You to Accede
Last week in Apia Forum leaders agreed to write letters to the US in support of nuclear justice for the Marshall Islands, which is a welcome show of solidarity. Yet as the mother of two Enjebi/Enewetak/Ujelang boys displaced by land-based radioactive contamination, I would prefer instead for you to accede to the Nuclear Ban Treaty on 20 September. Your signature would send a message stronger than any demarche that you recognize the suffering and hardships of my children’s family, and that you embody the spirit of true Pacific Regionalism by doing what you can to protect a very uncertain future for my grandchildren.
The choice is quite simple: we leave our children contaminated islands in a radioactive sea, or, we commit to a nuclear free heritage for future generations of ocean people.
What will you choose?
Brooke Takala is a mother, PhD Candidate at USP, and co-coordinator of an Enewetak NGO called Elimoñdik.
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
Media Helping Media