REMARKS: PIF SG, Henry Puna, at the RMI Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day

Remarks and Speeches
01 March 2024

Delivered by the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna at the Republic of the Marshall Islands Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day in Majuro.

01 March 2024

Madam President, Her Excellency Hilda Heine,

Government and Parliamentary Representatives,

Traditional Leaders,

The People of the Republic of the Marshall Islands,

Kia Orana, Iakwe, and a very good morning to you all.

May I firstly extend my sincerest appreciation to the President and the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands for the warm invitation to join you here today. I am deeply honoured to be a part of this occasion to mark an issue that remains deeply important to our Blue Pacific Continent.

Over the last few years, I have been privileged to support this annual commemoration day led by your Embassy and the Marshallese community in Fiji. While remembering tragedies of the past, I am always filled with hope and optimism, witnessing your children – the Marshallese youth based in Fiji – bravely leading and honouring their history with pride.

But to be here among you – to walk with you in Majuro on this 36th commemoration – strikes a tender chord within me. I stand with you on this day to honour and respect the lives of your people – of our people – who bore and continue to bear the permanent and inter-generational illnesses and problems caused by nuclear weapons testing.

I stand in solidarity with you all to ensure that we never forget those 50 long years of atrocities perpetrated on our Blue Pacific.

Indeed, nuclear testing was a key driver for the creation of the Pacific Islands Forum 53 years ago, and we have made great strides with the landmark Treaty of Rarotonga in 1985 and the permanent cessation of nuclear testing in our region in 1996.

The Nuclear testing legacy remains a priority of our Leaders, and the region continues to turn to you, the Marshall Islands, for your stewardship on this critical issue.

Just three months ago, at their 52nd annual meeting held in the Cook Islands, Forum Leaders reaffirmed commitment to continue support towards bilateral, regional and multilateral action to resolve these outstanding legacy issues.

As articulated in our 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Implementation Plan, our Leaders prioritise effective inclusive leadership at the international level on all nuclear issues.

Together, we will heighten advocacy to urge the global community to address nuclear legacy issues in the Pacific through the Rarotonga Treaty and other mechanisms.

In September 2023, at the 2nd US – PIF Summit held in Washington with President Biden, Pacific Leaders acknowledged the United States’ express commitment to address ongoing environmental, public health and other welfare concerns in the Marshall Islands. And we must hold our great friends, the US, accountable to this.

In fact, our relations with the US have never been stronger. Over the last few years we have embarked on a journey to strengthen our partnership, at the highest levels. And as we build upon and nurture this relationship, it absolutely must be underpinned by honesty, sharing and mutual respect. Indeed, in the words of former President Ronald Reagan, we are family. And in the Pacific Way, families share openly and with respect for one another.

If I may be frank, our history is littered with overwhelming foreign disrespect for our Blue Pacific. Clearly, we were used as a testing ground – more like a testing laboratory. And we must ask the question, why was the most beautiful corner of the world, with the most beautiful and peaceful people, chosen for these horrific acts without our informed consent?

While we have come a long way in mending past grievances, regrettably, the terms of resolving nuclear legacy issues in the Marshall Islands have been inadequate, and therefore remain unfinished.

We must overcome any imbalances of respect in our partnership, so that we can determine the true value of what was truly lost all those years ago, when these waters and lands were contaminated.

But I am hopeful that this issue will not go away, until we are satisfied that we have been heard. And this is why occasions such as this Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day, are critical in our endeavours.

Although difficult, remembering this history is important to empower generations toward the justice that we continue to seek for the Marshall Islands, for French Polynesia, for Kiribati, and indeed for the whole Blue Pacific Continent.

Ladies and gentlemen, in closing my brief remarks, I want to take this opportunity to once again thank you for your relentless efforts, to ensure that we do not forget. To ensure that we will always remember. More importantly to ensure that justice is done.

I renew my full commitment to supporting all efforts to ensure that nuclear testing never happens again in our blessed Pacific, and that the light of hope shines brightly upon a safer and more secure tomorrow for all.

May God bless the Marshall Islands, and may God bless our beloved Blue Pacific continent.

Kommol Tata. I thank you.