Last Legal Appeal By Australian Nuclear Veterans Shot Down By Human Rights Commission
Australian veterans of the British nuclear tests in Australia have been dealt a final blow in their long fight for justice.
The Sydney law firm Stacks/Goudkamp, representing 300 surviving nuclear veterans, took their case to the Australian Human Rights Commission in February. It was the last possible legal avenue that could be pursued in Australia.
Joshua Dale, a human rights law specialist at Stacks/Goudkamp, 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 lies outside the Commission’s jurisdiction.
President of the AHRC, Gillian Triggs, has written to the law firm saying: “I am of the opinion that the Commission does not have jurisdiction to enquire into alleged acts or practices that occurred during the period 1952 to 1963, whether under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or under any international human rights instrument scheduled to or declared for the purposes of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act.”
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, and I would say that the only recourse they have available to them now is a plea for an act of grace by the Australian Government to take responsibility for the events involving nuclear testing on Australian soil.”
“Sir Robert Menzies proclaimed Australia’s signature on the Declaration indicated to the world that, ‘We stand for justice’. He then allowed the British to conduct nuclear tests on Australian soil. 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.”
“Our British counterparts continue to consider what options might be available to British and Australian veterans against the British government with a pending appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.”
“What needs to happen now is that a genuine discussion be had between all members of parliament to address the inadequacies that exist in relation to Veterans’ Affairs legislation directly affecting the nuclear veterans.”
“These men deserve the peace of mind to know that the government that wronged them will now finally look after them. Past and successive governments have failed in protecting the interests of our military personnel who served during the nuclear tests, and they should now bring themselves to account. Let us now test the moral fabric of this 44th Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia.”
Media contact: Frank Walker 0417 090 346 firstname.lastname@example.org