Letter of 6 August 1995 to President Jacques Chirac Regarding the Resumption of Nuclear Weapons Testing in the Pacific Ocean at Moruroa Atoll
Environmental and Planning Law Journal, Vol. 12, No. 299, 1995
15 Pages Posted: 23 May 2008
Date Written: May 22, 2008
Over 185 international law and environmental law academics and lawyers, from over 40 countries, joined together to challenge the legality of the decision by the French Government to resume nuclear testing at Mururoa atoll in French Polynesia in 1995. The academics and lawyers joined in a letter and legal memorandum that outline international environmental obligations requiring to an effective environmental impact assessment that will be violated if the testing resumes as currently planned. A copy of the letter is reproduced below.
The reasons behind the letter and memo were primarily three-fold. First, the lawyers believed it important that public attention be focused important international environmental obligations that France will be breaching if the tests are carried out as currently planned. No state likes to be known as an international outlaw and the lawyers hoped that the shaming effect of the publicity about law-breaking would have some influence on the decision to resume testing. Due to French claims that protests against the testing were being essentially orchestrated by Australia and New Zealand it was important that the challenge to legality come from an independent group of experts from as many countries as possible. Second, because President Chirac had repeatedly stated that the decision to reverse testing was irrevocable almost from the outset, the lawyers hoped to provide a face-saving and graceful way based on law for the President to reverse his decision. Finally, the lawyers hoped that the arguments raised in the letter and legal memo would influence Australia or New Zealand to reopen the 1973-74 World Court Nuclear Test Cases by providing legal support as to the substance of the matter.
The letter and memo were formally transmitted to French President Jacques Chirac by the Australian Government via formal diplomatic channels. While the Australian Government expressly stopped short of endorsing the totality of the contents of the documents, in a letter to the author Foreign Minister Senator Gareth Evans states that the Government concurs generally with the legal opinion put forward in the memorandum concerning France's responsibilities. Foreign Minister Evans states that France clearly has a duty under international law to prevent transboundary environmental harm, coupled with an obligation to conduct environmental impact assessments when planning to undertake activities which might cause significant environmental harm. The Foreign Minister states that as yet insufficient research has been done to make a comprehensive assessment of the environmental impact of the proposed tests. It is by no means clear that France has fulfilled its international obligations in this regard. We cannot be satisfied on that point until further information is available concerning the environmental impact of the testing at the atoll. This information would also improve our understanding of whether significant transboundary environmental harm may be caused and whether France would be in breach of its obligations to prevent such harm, Senator Evans emphasises.
Keywords: International Environmental Law, Nuclear Weapons
JEL Classification: K32, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation