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  • Marshall Islands
  • Monica C Labriola

For the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), the period under review saw the passing of a number of public servants, community members, and advocates, including several trailblazers in nuclear and climate activism, advocacy, and scholarship. Tony deBrum devoted his life's work to the advancement of the Marshall Islands and to procuring nuclear and climate justice for Marshall Islanders. After serving on the Congress of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands' first Constitutional Convention in the 1970s, deBrum played a key role in securing independence from the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands and in the negotiations that resulted in the RMI's first Compact of Free Association (cofa) with the United States in 1986 (Walsh and Heine 2011). His government posts spanned decades and included senator for Mājro and Kuwajleen atolls, minister of finance and foreign affairs, ambassador to the United Nations, and RMI climate ambassador (mij, 1 Sept 2017). DeBrum was a staunch advocate for justice for the survivors of the aftermath of sixty-seven nuclear tests conducted by the United States on Pikinni and Ānewetak atolls. He sought to secure a world free of nuclear weapons and in 2014 filed a lawsuit on behalf of the RMI aimed at forcing the world's nuclear powers to reengage in nuclear disarmament talks (mij, 1 Sept 2017). DeBrum was also a leader in the movement to reverse the effects of climate change and was instrumental in the passage of the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In addition to being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, deBrum was the recipient of several awards including the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Distinguished Peace Leadership Award in 2012 and a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award from the government of Germany in 2017 (mij, 25 Aug, 3 Nov 2017).

Weeks before deBrum's passing in late August 2017, the Marshall Islands lost sitting Naṃdik Atoll Senator and Minister Mattlan (Matt) Zackhras. Prior to his service as President Hilda Heine's minister in assistance, Zackhras's portfolio during his four terms in office included the ministries of public works and of resources and development. Zackhras was instrumental in securing funding for local [End Page 170] and national sustainable development projects and was recognized for his work promoting sustainable black pearl farming, the formation of the Namdrik [Naṃdik] Copra Cooperative, and the RMI's first virgin coconut oil processing operation (mij, 11 Aug 2017). In a November 2017 special election, Naṃdik voters opted to keep Zackhras's Nitijeḷā (Parliament) seat in the family by electing his brother Wisely Zackhras to succeed him (mij, 17 Nov 2017).

The RMI also lost three longtime nuclear advocates during this period. Lemeyo Abon was one of the last surviving ri-Roñḷap (ri- means person/people of/from) to have lived through the fallout of the Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb test on Pikinni Atoll on 1 March 1954. Abon recounted her experiences in books, films, newspaper articles, and a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2012; she died in February 2018. A resident of the Marshall Islands for almost fifty years, Bill Graham devoted much of his career to seeking justice and compensation for the survivors of US nuclear testing. Graham served as public advocate for the RMI Nuclear Claims Tribunal for more than twenty years and had recently been appointed to the newly established RMI National Nuclear Commission. Graham died in Honolulu on 1 March 2018, the sixty-fourth anniversary of the Castle Bravo test (mij, 9 March 2018). Nuclear scholar and advocate Dr Robert (Bob) Kiste passed away on 28 November 2017. In addition to publishing The Bikinians: A Study in Forced Migration in 1974 and working as a consultant for the Micronesian Legal Service Corporation in the 1970s, Kiste inspired scores of Pacific Islands scholars as a professor and director of the Center for Pacific Islands Studies from 1978 to 2002 (Lal 2004).

Among the many other traditional leaders and prominent community members who died during this period were Mājro aḷap (lineage head) Newi Nathan; Kuwajleen aḷap and Constitutional Convention delegate Stephen "Kodri" Dribo; and Castle Bravo...


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