Nuclear Veterans Shot Down In Human Rights Appeal
Australian veterans of the British nuclear tests in Australia have been dealt a final blow in their long fight for justice.
The law firm Stacks/Goudkamp, representing 300 surviving nuclear veterans, took their case to the Australian Human Rights Commission in February. The firm has been fighting for justice for the veterans on a pro bono basis for seven years. This was the last possible legal avenue that could be pursued in Australia.
Joshua Dale, a human rights law specialist at Stacks, argued the Menzies government breached the human rights of the veterans by using them as virtual guinea pigs in the series of nuclear tests conducted by the British at Maralinga, Emu Field and Monte Bello Islands in the 1950s and 60s.
Mr Dale said exposing thousands of servicemen to the harmful effects of radiation in full knowledge of the potential damage to their health breached the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by Australia at the United Nations in 1948.
But the Australian Human Rights Commission has just rejected the complaint alleging a breach of human rights, saying what happened to the servicemen at the nuclear tests lay outside the Commission’s jurisdiction.
President of the AHRC, Gillian Triggs, said even though they could do nothing under the law she was sympathetic to the veterans and their families. She said the Stacks submission had raised issues that are of significance to the Australian community and she will bring the matter to the attention of the Attorney General George Brandis QC.
Mr Dale said the decision marks a sad day for human rights in Australia as the body charged to protect human rights finds it does not have jurisdiction to consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the basis for human rights legislation around the world.
“This decision sends a message to the current government that there is a clear failure in recognising the rights of our military veterans,” Mr Dale said.
“This decision marks the end of the road for our nuclear veterans. The only recourse they have available to them now is a plea for an act of grace by the Australian Government to finally take responsibility for what was done to them.
“Sir Robert Menzies proclaimed Australia’s signature on the Declaration showed the world ‘We stand for justice’. He then allowed the British to conduct nuclear tests on Australian soil and use our servicemen as test subjects. The nuclear veterans have been denied justice, they have been denied rights to compensation, and ultimately they have been deprived of their dignity and recognition by the Government who wronged them.”