For Immediate Release: July 8, 1996

Contact: Christopher Hellman (202) 898-0150, Ext. 231

or Patricia Savage, Ext. 247

Physicians Group Responds to World Court Ruling on Nuclear Weapons:
Urges Weapons States to Immediately Begin Negotiations
to Eliminate Nuclear Arsenals

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today the nuclear disarmament group Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) commended the advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which effectively makes the use of nuclear weapons a violation of international law. PSR is the U.S. affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.

"The Court has stated that the threat or use of nuclear weapons must be compatible with the principles and rules of international humanitarian law," said Robert K. Musil, Ph.D., Executive Director of PSR. "As physicians, our members know first-hand that nuclear weapons are not humane. They are indiscriminate and immoral weapons which cause tremendous suffering, radiation sickness and death."

The ICJ, also known as the World Court, received two requests to render the advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons, one by the World Health Organization and a second by the U.N. General Assembly. IPPNW successfully petitioned the World Health Organization to seek an advisory opinion from the ICJ in 1993. The Court began hearing oral arguments on the matter at The Hague in October 1995.

The Court issued a split decision stating in part that "the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law...and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law." The Court also stated unanimously that under international law, the nuclear weapons nations are obliged to "bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament."

"Given the Court's composition, which includes judges from all five of the declared nuclear powers, a split decision comes as no real surprise," said Chris Hellman, Senior Policy Analyst at PSR. "What is significant is the Court's unanimous view that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is contrary to the principles of humanitarian law and that international law binds nations to achieve nuclear disarmament."

"The nuclear weapons states should begin negotiations to ban nuclear weapons, as we have done for chemical and biological weapons," said Hellman. "As a first step the U.S. and Russia should immediately negotiate a START III treaty to further reduce their nuclear arsenals, with an eye towards the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons."

Journalists interested in receiving a summary of the ICJ Advisory Opinion may contact PSR.

Physicians for Social Responsibility is a membership-based non-governmental agency formed in 1961 to end nuclear testing and work for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

ICJ Opinion Page