Saturday August 6, marks the 71st anniversary of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb holocaust. On August 6 1945, during World War II (1939-45), an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion wiped out 90 per cent of the city and killed 80,000 people. Tens of thousands more would later die of radiation-exposure. Three days later, a second B-29 dropped another A-bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people. Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender in World War II in a radio address on August 15, citing the devastating power of “a new and most cruel bomb.”
In Tokyo on Tuesday a special event was held in preparation for the August 6 anniversary and the person honoured there was one of Sri Lanka’s and the world’s most eminent jurist C. G. Weeramantry, former Senior Vice President of the International Court of Justice. Tuesday’s event was held to mark the 20th anniversary of a historic dissenting judgment given by Justice Weerarmantry in a case involving nuclear weapons.
In this dissenting judgment, published worldwide in several languages, Justice Weeramantry said his considered opinion was that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons was illegal under any circumstances.
According to him, it violates the fundamental principles of international law and represents the very negation of the humanitarian concerns which underlie the structure of humanitarian law.
It offends conventional law and in particular, the Geneva Gas Protocol of 1925 and Article 23 (a) of the Hague Regulations of 1907. It contradicts the fundamental principle of the dignity and worth of the human person on which all law depends. It endangers the human environment in a manner which threatens the entirety of life on the planet.
In a grave crisis today where as many as nine countries including the rogue state of North Korea possess nuclear weapons that could blast the world to pieces, Justice Weeramantry said, “I regret that the ICJ has not held directly and categorically that the use or threat of use of the weapon is unlawful in all circumstances without exception. The Court should have so stated in a vigorous and forthright manner which would have settled this legal question now and for ever. Instead, the Court has moved in the direction of illegality with some far-reaching pronouncements that strongly point in that direction, while making other pronouncements that are both less than clear and clearly wrong.”
Justice Weeramantry has also referred to the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, issued on July 9, 1955. Two of the most outstanding intellects of this century, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, each of them specially qualified to speak with authority of the power locked in the atom, joined a number of the world’s most distinguished scientists in issuing a poignant appeal to all of humanity in connection with nuclear weapons.
That appeal was based on considerations of rationality, humanity and concern for the human future. These are built into the structure of international law, which contains within itself a section which particularly concerns itself with the humanitarian laws of war. It is in the context of that particular section of that particular discipline that this case is set. It is an area in which the concerns voiced in the Russell-Einstein Manifesto resonate with exceptional clarity.
The appeal says:
“No one knows how widely such lethal radioactive particles may be diffused, but the best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might possibly put an end to the human race . . .
. . . We appeal, as human beings, to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”
Equipped with the necessary array of principles with which to respond, international law could contribute significantly towards rolling back the shadow of the mushroom cloud, and heralding the sunshine of the nuclear-free age.
No issue could be fraught with deeper implications for the human future, and the pulse of the future beats strong in the body of international law. This issue has not thus far entered the precincts of international tribunals. Now that it has done so for the first time, it should be answered -- convincingly, clearly and categorically.