Aussie nuke test victims seek justice
Article courtesy of XINHUA NEWS – CHRISTIAN EDWARDS – 23/02/2013
Article also appeared in NZ WEEK – 24/02/2013
Ordered by their government to fly through the mushroom cloud of a nuclear test over 50 years earlier, 300 Australian veterans exposed in various ways to atomic testing have appealed to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to condemn the Australian government for ordering their exposure to deadly radioactive fallout.
A year after a similar appeal against the British government — architects of the original tests, the 300 veterans hope the Human Rights Commission will find the Australian government exposed these dedicated soldiers to deadly radiation by sending them deliberately through the test zone in the South Australian outback.
Stacks/Goudkamp lawyer Joshua Dale said the advanced age of the 300, made the case a desperate question of “now or never.”
“This submission is really the end of the line,” Dale said.
“It’s the last opportunity that we have to try and get some kind of recourse from the Australian Government.”
While any recommendation from that action will not be binding, they are hoping to embarrass the government into compensating them and providing medical treatment.
Having split with the ruling Labour party from a parliamentary alliance earlier in the week, the Australian Greens expressed support for the bid by the veterans exposed to British nuclear tests to secure compensation and again renewed their call for the British to compensate all victims of atomic weapons testing.
Greens spokesperson for nuclear policy Senator Scott Ludlam wrote to the office of British Foreign Secretary William Hague five weeks ago, urging him to give Act of Grace payments to the victims and wrote to Mr. Hague again today.
“The hopes of Australians exposed to nuclear testing were dealt a blow by a UK court ruling against compensation in January. The people exposed to the testing at Maralinga and other sites have been denied adequate compensation on onerous and fastidious technical grounds. Justice has been delayed too long,” said Senator Ludlam.
One of the darkest chapters of Australia’s post-war history, the British government was permitted to conduct nuclear tests at Maralinga, in South Australia, throughout the 1950s and 60s.
Over the course of eight years, a total of seven major tests were carried out, as well as more than 500 smaller trials.
The massive nuclear detonations exposed both the servicemen stationed at Maralinga and the local Aboriginal inhabitants to unhealthy levels of radiation, as well as contaminating the sites with radioactive materials, some of which will remain active for hundreds of thousands of years.
In 1993 the British government paid the Australian government a sum of 20 million Pounds Sterling as a compensation fund for the cleanup of the nuclear testing sites.
While this amount was paid for cleanup, there are thousands of Australians who have suffered as a result of the British nuclear tests and have not received a cent in compensation.
Many of the surviving personnel, ordered to take part in the tests at Maralinga in the 1950s and 60s, blame their medical conditions on exposure to nuclear radiation.
A Human rights law specialist, Dale accused the government of breaching the Australian soldiers’ human rights and that by sending the servicemen “as human guinea pigs”, the Australian government breached no less than three articles of the Universal declaration of Human Rights.
“The nuclear veterans have suffered higher death rates, higher cancer rates and worse health problems than the general population. Many effects of radiation are hereditary, and children and grandchildren of the nuclear veterans have been afflicted with health problems and deformities.”
Following a landmark ruling in the British court, British ex- servicemen and their widows won the right to take the British Ministry of Defence to court in a class action suit.
However, Senator Ludlum said those exposed to the tests in Australia have been left to suffer on their own.
“The Menzies Government (1949-1966) knew these people would be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. The findings of the 1984- 1985 Royal Commission support the claim that the Australian authorities, along with the British, deliberately put Australian personnel in harm’s way, and certainly showed no regard for the Aboriginal people living in the area,” Senator Ludlum said.
Apart from servicemen deliberately exposed to measure the impact of radiation fallout, generations of Australians, particularly indigenous Australians have paid a terrible price in terms of radiation-induced illness.
According to the Greens, the Australian personnel involved have proven to be 23 percent more likely to have cancer than the general population, and 18 percent more likely to die from cancer.
“The people exposed to the tests were done a great wrong and time is of the essence. They should not incur further indignity due to inability to pay medical costs, nor the further expense and delay of the legal pursuit of long-overdue justice.
“This blight on the history of both the United Kingdom and Australia has gone on too long and the opportunity to make things right will pass us by unless taken now.” Ludlum added.