Maralinga Nuclear Tests Case Rejected By Human Rights Commission
Courtesy of the Guardian by Paul Farrell, 10 December 2013
Commission says it does not have jurisdiction to hear case of veterans exposed to radiation from British nuclear testing
Australian veterans deliberately exposed to British nuclear bomb testing have had their case rejected by Australia’s Human Rights Commission, which says it does not have the jurisdiction to hear their complaint.
The ruling was the last legal avenue available to the surviving 300 veterans, who argued the Menzies government violated their human rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by exposing them to harmful radiation from nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s at Maralinga, South Australia.
“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,” said Joshua Dale, a human rights law specialist from the law firm Stacks/Goudkamp, which represented the veterans.
He said the decision was a failure to recognise the rights of military veterans.
“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,” he said.
The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, wrote in her decision: “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.”
Veterans who were present at the nuclear testing at Maralinga have higher rates of cancer than the general population. The tests led to widespread contamination of the surrounding land.
Australian serviceman, as well as Indigenous people who lived near the test sites, have been pressing the UK and Australian governments for compensation for their injuries. The British supreme court found in 2012 that 1,000 British veterans who joined together to make a claim could not succeed because too much time had passed since the tests.
Dale has called on the government to examine veterans’ affairs legislation and allow the serviceman to be able to gain compensation.
“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.”