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On the Legality of Nuclear Weapons: The Weeramantry Dissent

(The following is a slightly edited version of an article that appeared in War and Peace Digest, Oct./Nov. 1996.)

One of the greatest legacies of the historic World Court decision on nuclear weapons will be the 86-page dissenting opinion of Judge Christopher Gregory Weeramantry. The softly spoken World Court justice from Sri Lanka has produced what may be the most reflective and sweeping legal analysis ever written on the laws of war and their relation to nuclear weapons. Indeed, Weeramantry's opinion goes far beyond anything contained in the official court ruling. It is a truly majestic work of law and morality and will be cited as a seminal document in all future discussions of nuclear abolition.

The following selections merely brush the surface of the work. However, the Weeramantry dissent is available in its entirety on the Internet at:

Nuclear Weapons and the Law

My considered opinion is that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is illegal in any circumstances whatsoever.... It contradicts the fundamental principal of the dignity and worth of the human person on which all law depends. It endangers the human environment in a manner which threatens the entirety of life on the planet.

Legal argument becomes almost superfluous, for it can scarcely be contended that any legal system can contain within itself a principal which permits the entire society which it serves to be thus decimated and destroyed--along with the natural environment which has sustained it from time immemorial.... No nation can be seen as entitled to risk the destruction of civilization for its own national benefit....

The inter-generational effects of nuclear weapons mark them out from other classes of weapons.... The adverse effects of the bomb are virtually permanent--reaching into the distant future of the human race.... Apart from damage to the environment which successive generations will inherit far into the future, radiation also causes genetic damage and will result in a crop of deformed and defective offspring.... No one generation is entitled, for whatever purpose, to inflict such damage on succeeding generations....

Equipped with the necessary array of principals with which to respond, international law could contribute significantly towards rolling back the shadow of the mushroom cloud, and heralding the sunshine of the nuclear-free age.

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