Page 26 - Respond 2018 Magazine
P. 26


       1945-2017: Tony de Brum,

       Marshallese climate and

       anti-nuclear crusader

       By Karl Mathiesen

       De Brum, who fought for justice for his tiny island nation against formidable economic
       and political odds, died in August aged 72

       Born in 1945, Tony de Brum grew up on the island of Likiep.   This childhood memory became de Brum’s creation story
       When he was still a child the US, the colonial power in the   and a pivotal experience he often used to explain the path
       Marshalls at the time, conducted a programme of 67 nuclear   his life took. He was one of the first Marshall Islanders to
       tests that saw many hundreds of Marshallese displaced after   graduate from university and became his country’s chief
       their atolls were blown up and irradiated.           negotiator in their attempt to receive fair reparations for the
                                                            annihilation and poisoning of their land.
       Many years later, De Brum recalled viewing the mother of
       these explosions – the 1954 Bravo shot – while fishing with   He was a key figure in achieving the full independence of his
       his grandfather 200 miles away. The pair were suddenly   country in 1986 on terms that granted Marshall Islanders
       blinded, he said, as if the sun had grown across the entire   a compact of free association and $150m compensation
       sky. Then everything, the palms, the sea, the fishing nets,   for the damages caused by the tests. This deal has since
       turned red. Later, a fine irritating white ash rained down, like   been criticised, by de Brum himself as well as others, as
       snow, he said.                                       inadequate compared to the costs that continue to be borne
                                                            by the Marshallese.
       With the force of 1000 Hiroshima bombs, the Bravo test
       reshaped Bikini atoll, and de Brum’s life, forever. The   While in recent years de Brum has become associated with
       displacement of the islanders of Bikini and other atolls, as   climate action, his anti-nuclear crusade was the work of his
       well as the deaths due to radiation, is a legacy the Marshall   lifetime and extended beyond the interests of his people.
       Islands still struggles with today.                  In 2014, under his ministry, the Marshall Islands launched
                                                            a legal attack on the US government, accusing them of
                                                            breaching the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty
                                                            (NPT). In the same year he was the architect of a landmark
                                                            case in the International Court of Justice that charged
                                                            nine nuclear powers with failing to negotiate nuclear
                                                            disarmament in good faith.

                                                            Speaking to assembled NPT members last year in New York,
                                                            he said: “Because no one ever considered the humanitarian
                                                            impacts of nuclear weapons, the Marshallese people still
                                                            carry a burden which no other people or nation should
                                                            ever have to bear. And this is a burden we will carry for
                                                            generations to come.”

                                                            He received several awards for his anti-nuclear activism and
                                                            was nominated for last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

                                                            De Brum lived on the capital atoll of Majuro and became the
                                                            patriarch of one of the island’s largest and most successful
                                                            families. During a long political career, de Brum served
       The “Baker” explosion, a nuclear weapon test by the US military   as minister for health, minister for finance and minister
       at Bikini Atoll, Micronesia, on 25 July 1946. Photo: United States   in-assistance to the president. He was three times foreign
       Department of Defense                                minister – most recently until 2016 before losing his seat in
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