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An Open Letter to the Marshallese Community Residing in the United States from Ambassador Banny deBrum
Yokwe Kom Aolep:
I am writing to all of you because I know your hearts are as heavy as mine as we are confronted with the devastating tragedy of the deaths of two of our children in recent weeks. Sadly, the lives of 10 year old Emiti Freddy, and 22 month old Kwadik Annam were taken prematurely from this world before they had the opportunity to realize their full potential and happiness as human beings.
We have always prided ourselves on our culture – a culture in which the well-being of our children plays a central role. In the islands we have numerous informal networks that serve as safety nets for our children to ensure that they are always cared for. If one of our families lacks the resources to provide for our children then it is customary for our relatives and close friends to step in and assist with the temporary raising of children. This system works in the Marshall Islands because even when children are not living with their immediate families, they are surrounded by extended families and clan members who watch out for a child’s best interest.
This system of sharing the rearing of children does not work as well in the United States, however. In the U.S. families tend to live in separate dwellings which can be distant from the homes of other Marshallese families. It is much harder in these situations to rely on the community network to keep a collective eye on our children. Furthermore, children in the United States who do not live with their parents are in need of legal guardians. If the guardianship role is not legalized then the adults looking after the children of others do not have the ability to give permission to hospitals or doctors to provide medical care for the children, to sign field trip permission slips for schools, or to sign financial aid applications on their behalf. I urge parents in the Marshall Islands to consider the legal implications and cultural realities of sending their children to live with others in the United States. Although the informal adoption, and shared rearing practices have served us well for hundreds of years in the Marshall Islands, my experience is that these practices are not as effective in the United States.
In our time of profound sorrow over the loss of Emiti and Kwadik, I call on all Marshallese in the United States to engage in meaningful conversations about the situations that led to the deaths of these children with other Marshallese in your communities. Even while we wait for the facts to emerge, and we cannot draw conclusions about what occurred, we need to be aware of and talk about the circumstances that contributed to the loss of these children. What did people fear if they came forward to talk to authorities about the problems these children encountered before they died? Are people worried about deportation? Are they worried Marshallese children will be forced into the U.S. foster child program? Are we so concerned with minding our own business that the well-being of children can suffer in the process? Our children need our entire community to be vigilant care givers and watch dogs whether living at home or as guests in another nation. I hope that the losses of Emiti and Kwadik will inspire us to draw on the strengths of our culture and beliefs that place such high respect for children so this will never happen again. If we can save even one Marshallese child who is presently suffering as Emiti and Kwadik may have suffered, then their lives will be honored.
Anij en Kejbarok Emiti and Kwadik.
Ambassador Banny deBrum
US SS CARD CLARIFIED FOR MARSHALLESE CITIZENS
Wednesday September 27, 2006—Marshall Islands Ambassador to the United States Banny deBrum received a letter from the Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Income Security Programs Fredrick G. Streckewald, of the U.S. Social Security Administration, clarifying the status of the Republic of the Marshall Islands’ citizens when applying for a US social security number.
“The SSA (Social Security Administration) is aware that the Compact of Free Association in place between the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands provides that citizens of the Marshall Islands under the Compact of Free Association may live, study and work in the United States,” said Streckewald in his letter. “Therefore SSA’s policy is to issue a citizen of the Republic of the Marshal Islands an SSN card without any legend.” An SSN card without a legend can be presented as proof of employment eligibility when the person is hired in the United States and is completing an Employment Eligibility Verification Form (I-9) for employer, stated the letter.
Streckewald said that in the past, some local SSA offices were unfamiliar with the correct procedures when a citizen of a country with a Compact of Free Association with the U.S. applies for a SSN card. “As a result, citizens of the Marshall Islands have sometimes been prohibited from applying for an SSN or have been issued SSN cards which incorrectly show the legend ‘Valid for Work with DHS Authorization,’” said Streckewald.
“You may photocopy this letter and furnish a copy of it to any of your citizens to take along with them when they visit any local SSA office to apply for SSN cards,” Streckewald said. “They can show it to the SSA employees who take the SSN card applications to ensure that they are issued unrestricted SSN cards (cards without any legend) that can be used to work in the United States.”
Foreign Minister Gerald M. Zackios said that the letter issued by Streckewald will alleviate the problems that citizens of the Marshall Islands face when applying for SSN cards. “The current Compact of Free Association between the RMI and the US give RMI citizens’ continued access to live, study and work in the U.S,” Zackios said. Prior to the signing and passage of the Compact of Free Association, as Amended the Legend “Authorized to work with INS Authorization” had been printed on many SSN cards over the past several years. “However, this will no longer be the case under the Compact as Amended,” said Zackios.
Both Minister Zackios and Ambassador deBrum thanked Streckewald for clarifying the issue and allowing for RMI citizens to provide copies of his letter when applying for the U.S. SSN cards.
GOVERNMENT TAKES STEPS TO ASSIST LOST FISHERMEN
Thursday, 24 August 2006—The Marshall Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs took immediate diplomatic actions after hearing of the rescue of the three lost fishermen from Mexico by contacting the Embassy of Mexico in New Zealand.
After drifting for 9 months, the three men were located 960 nautical miles southeast of Majuro on 9 August. They were taken on board by one of Koo’s fishing vessel registered in the Marshall Islands, and arrived in the capital on the morning of Tuesday, 22 August.
A declaration from the Office of the Chief of Protocol of the Foreign Ministry stated that it was fortunate that the three men were healthy and in good spirit after arriving in the Marshall Islands. “We are grateful that the three gentlemen will be able to reunite with their families and friends”. The Marshall Islands has assisted lost fishermen in the past by working closely with the respective Governments. In this case, the Ministry was able to contact the Embassy of Mexico in New Zealand and was assured close collaboration from its officials.
The Ministry commends the management of Koo’s Fishing Co. and the crew of the vessel for the excellent job in which they rescued and saved the lives of the lost the Mexican fishermen.
Representatives from the Embassy of Mexico in Wellington and the Mexican Foreign Ministry along with representatives from the RMI Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Public Safety Department, Immigration, and Ministry of Health were on hand Tuesday morning to receive the fishing vessel in Majuro.
The three fishermen were given immediate medical attention upon arrival and were cleared for departure to their home country. They departed Majuro for Mexico on the evening of Wednesday, 23 August.
DELAYS IN ISSUING SSNs TO MARSHALLESE LIVING IN THE U.S.
June 7, 2006 - Sometimes Marshallese living in the United States experience difficulties and delays in obtaining a Social Security number (SSN). Reasons for those delays and ways to address the problem were discussed in a recent meeting between Ambassador Banny deBrum and Social Security Administration (SSA) officials.
SSA procedures effective 9/30/2002 require that the SSA employees confirm the identity and immigration status of any applicant with the Department of Homeland Security’s USCIS office (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services – formerly INS). Marshall Islanders are experiencing delays because the electronic verification system at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) currently lacks a code corresponding to the CFA/MIS status indicator on the I-94 form that Marshallese receive on entering the United States. Without the code, requests for verification of the I-94s issued to Marshallese applicants for SSNs must be sent from the SSA to the Department of Homeland Security via a paper-based process that can take anywhere from two weeks to three months.
The Department of Homeland Security is aware of the need to add the necessary code to their systems. The Embassy is following up on the issue with various U.S. agencies in order to make this a priority item at DHS. In addition, the SSA is working with the Embassy to craft a clear process by which any Marshallese facing delays in obtaining an SSN can easily follow up on their application. The SSA will also provide an updated version of the letter from one of their high-level officials explaining Marshallese eligibility for an SSN.
For Marshallese who are having problems getting jobs due to delays in processing of their SSNs, it should be noted that employers may, if they wish, hire someone who has already applied for and is waiting for an SSN. Below are links to information issued by the SSA and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for employers regarding the regulations for such cases.
Ambassador deBrum thanked the SSA officials at the meeting for their willingness to work together to resolve SSN-related problems for Marshallese citizens. He said, “We are here to ensure that the way is clear for Marshallese who come to the United States under the Compact of Free Association to live, work and go to school. We will continue to work with U.S. Government agencies to resolve these problems as soon as possible. At the same time, I encourage any Marshallese who are experiencing difficulties to continue to contact the Embassy so that we can be as responsive as possible to the needs of our communities here in the U.S.”
SSA Fact Sheet – “Employer Responsibilities When Hiring Foreign Workers”:
IRS web site – “Delays in Issuing SSNs to Aliens by the Social Security
IRS regulation 26 CFR31.6011 (b)-2 – “Employees’ Account Numbers”
PRESIDENT AND FIRST LADY NOTE VISIT SEATTLE
June 2, 2005- President and First Lady Note concluded a two-day stopover in Seattle, Washington on their way back from attending Constitution Day celebrations in Portland, Oregon. The President and First Lady included a visit to Seattle because they wanted to touch base with the Marshallese community residing in the area and because the President was interested in exploring a range of development possibilities. Joining President Note’s delegation were Minister Rien Morris, Senator Helkena Anni, and Ambassador Banny deBrum. Majuro Mayor Riley Alberttar also joined the delegation for part of the trip.
The Seattle trip was kicked off by President Note with a visit to Seattle’s largest public elementary school, Bryant. A kindergarten class at Bryant is studying presidents and President Note visited with the class to give them a chance to meet a president and ask questions. The questions ranged from: “What money are you on?” to “Where did you go to kindergarten?” Although there are no Marshallese students at Bryant Elementary School, President Note indicated that it is important to give back to the communities where Marshallese live and show that the purpose of our visit is not just to see how we can help ourselves, but also to demonstrate that we care about our friends.” To this end, President Note’s delegation also dropped off sandwiches and drinks to homeless in downtown Seattle.
President Note and his delegation visited Federal Way High School to meet Marshallese and other Pacific Islander students. Federal Way School Department bussed in Marshallese and other students from other high schools so that more than 200 students were in attendance. President Note talked to the students about the importance of finishing their education, not just high school but also higher education, so they can be productive citizens wherever they live. High school students had many questions for the President, too, such as “When can the RMI expect to have its first McDonald’s restaurant?”
Beyond education, another motivation for the trip to Seattle was to explore opportunities to strengthen the healthcare services in the RMI either through partnerships or the sharing of information and ideas. President Note visited a diabetes care center at the University of Washington which sees many Marshallese clients as well as a cancer research and treatment facility at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance where Marshallese currently receive treatment. President Note talked to the cancer facility about the U.S. National Cancer Institute study that predicts hundreds of cancers in the future as a result of the U.S. nuclear weapons testing program.
One of the highlights of the trip was an excursion to Bainbridge Island, just west of Seattle, with Congressman Jay Inslee. Congressman Inslee is a Democrat on the House Resources Committee, the committee in the U.S. Congress with jurisdiction for the Marshall Islands.
During WW II, the U.S. Government rounded up Japanese-Americans and forced them into internment camps because the U.S. feared that they would assist Japan while the U.S. was at war with Japan. Many Japanese-Americans lost their homes, their possessions and their land. President Note and his delegation visited the area on Bainbridge Island where many Japanese-Americans were put on a boat to be sent to the internment camp. There is a monument being constructed on the site, and it is considered to be sacred land by the local community.
In addition to the delegation’s focus on Japanese-American internment, Congressman Inslee and the President discussed global warming and the threat of sea-level rise and the RMI’s Changed Circumstances Petition to the U.S. Congress.
The Burke Museum at the University of Washington hosted a large gathering for President Note and his delegation. Recently the Burke Museum has been working with Marshallese in the Seattle area to host a temporary exhibit of Marshallese artifacts from the 1940s that were donated to the Burke. President Note indicated his appreciation for all the outreach efforts the university is making with the local Seattle community and its efforts to help the community address any hardships involved with locating to the United States, and in creating an atmosphere that is welcoming to Pacific Islanders. President Note met with student representatives of a Pacific Islander outreach program in which Pacific Islander students at UW mentor Pacific Islanders in area high schools by bringing them to campus for educational and cultural events that build solidarity among Pacific Islanders and lets students know that they will be part of a “family” if they attend UW.
Following the ceremony with UW officials, the President and his delegation held a community meeting for all Marshallese. President Note, Minister Morris, Senator Anni, and Ambassador deBrum all addressed the crowd to talk about developments in the RMI, particularly on the outer islands, such as the introduction of cell phone and internet capabilities as well as solar energy, and to answer any questions people had.
President Note also visited with authorities from the Port of Seattle which has responsibility for air, sea and land movement in and out of the city. President Note was particularly interested in learning more about the products that are shipped from Seattle to the Marshall Islands.
The delegation from the RMI received a lot of press attention for a trip to the headquarters for the Seattle Seahawks. President Note gave a Marshallese stick chart to Samoan player Lofa Tatupu and told him it was a “game plan” for next season. Both Tatupu and Itula Mili (born in Hawaii) received letters from President Note thanking them for being positive role models for all Pacific Islanders. President Note also had a chance to talk with coach Mike Holmgren, tour the training facilities, and meet with several players. Seahawks television taped an interview with President Note and told him that he was the first Head of State to visit the organization. President Note assured the Seahawks that they will have many fans rooting for them in the Marshall Islands. The Seahawks organization donated two large bags of flag football equipment to the RMI to help develop football in the country.
MARSHALLESE STUDENTS COMPLETE NUCLEAR HISTORY EDUCATION PROGRAM AT AMERICAN UNIVERSITY
May 26 2006 – Marshallese students from Ka’u High School on the Big Island of Hawaii completed a week-long Nuclear History Education Program at American University (AU) this week. In its second year, the program provides Marshallese students with the opportunity to learn about the history of nuclear weapons testing in general. The program also gives the students a chance to engage in dialogue with AU faculty and students about the particular history of weapons testing in the Marshall Islands.
The four students attending the program this year brought a unique perspective to their discussions. All four have close ties to Enewetak Atoll, one of two former U.S. testing sites in the Marshall Islands. The group included seniors Roseann James and Jasper Luther and sophomores Ron Naptali and Betina Wajar.
In addition to class sessions at AU, the students met with Congressional representatives Ed Case and Neil Abercrombie from the state of Hawaii to talk about the status of the RMI’s Changed Circumstances Petition. They also visited Wilson High School where they led a discussion on Radio Bikini following a special showing of the film. Tours of the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian museums and several national monuments rounded off a productive and educational trip.
The students ended their week with a farewell barbeque hosted by the Embassy. The event gave the students the opportunity to meet and thank many of those who generously contributed funds to support the program. The Embassy recognizes the following organizations and individuals for their support: International Registries, Inc., Dr. Sheldon Riklon, Mr. Davor Pevec, Esq., Mr. Geoffrey Judge, Dr. Neal Palafox, Mr. Gordon Benjamin, Esq., Mr. and Mrs. Dial Keju, Mr. Chris Yanckello, and RMI Embassy staff.
Ambassador deBrum welcomed the students and guests saying, “I have always believed that supporting education and our young people is the single most important thing that I can do for my country. This is a special program not only because it allows Marshallese students to focus on their unique history, but also because it gives them a taste of college life in the process. I praise everyone here for their shared commitment to education and to this program.”
Nancy Hunter, a teacher at Ka’u High School, accompanied the students on the trip. Zen Hunter-Ishikawa from AU coordinated the visit.
RESOURCE GUIDE FOR MARSHALLESE NOW AVAILABLE ONLINE
May 25, 2006 - Last year, students from the Anthropology Department at the University of Washington connected with the Marshallese community in Seattle to create a resource guide for Marshallese living in the US. With the guidance of Dr. Holly Barker of the Marshall Islands Embassy in Washington, DC, students split into 4 groups and took 10 weeks to study and work on issues that the local Marshallese communities had requested help in researching.
In an effort to ensure they addressed the true needs of the community, students spent much of their spare time bonding with Marshallese by attending church services and community activities, visiting Marshallese homes, conducting individual interviews, and holding focus groups and community forums throughout the area.
The students found that while the Compact of Free Association allows Marshallese living in the US to enjoy many unique rights, many Marshallese in the area do not understand or have difficulty explaining all of the rights afforded them by the Compact. Often times, they encounter problems with employers and government officials who have never heard of the Marshall Islands or are unfamiliar with the special rights afforded to Marshallese.
Many Marshallese pointed out difficulties with obtaining a drivers license, with finding a school or classes where they can study English or other subjects, with finding legal advocacy and council, and with identifying the right healthcare facility to address their needs and the needs of their family members.
The students went to work gathering information on schools, maps and directions to local healthcare centers, and useful forms from the government. They wrote letters and conducted more interviews with healthcare professionals, government agencies, and officials. They went to schools and contacted libraries, scouring the city for information that could be useful to the Marshallese.
Their final product turned out to be a 374 page document which features information on everything from finding affordable health care, choosing schools and finding educational resources to explanations of laws and government documents that pertain to Marshallese living in the US. The students even included tips for writing a resume and looking for employment.
Many students in the class have gone on to help with further projects. A recent effort includes an informational pamphlet on laws that pertain to the Marshallese and their specific arrangements with the U.S. government. Currently, Dr. Barker is working with another group of interested students to produce more resources for the Marshallese community.
The guide and the pamphlet are both now available in the Forms and Downloads section of the Embassy of the Marshall Islands’ website, rmiembassyus.org. Further information on the projects can be obtained by contacting Dr. Holly Barker through email: firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE RECEIVES HONORARY DEGREE FROM CMI
Majuro Friday May 19, 2006—RMI President Kessai H. Note received an honorary doctorate degree from the College of the Marshall Islands this afternoon in Majuro. A special ceremony was held in the President’s Office where more than 50 family members, friends and high government officials attended.
“It is very gratifying that the highest national learning institution of the people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands would bestow upon my family and myself—the conveyance of an Honorary Doctorate Degree—a first of its kind for the College,” said President Note. “I accept this honor on behalf of my family, the Government and the people of the Marshall Islands. I thank the College of the Marshall Islands’ President, Wilson Hess, members of the Board of Regents, faculty, staff and members of the student body for this honor.”
This is the second honorary doctorate degree that the President has received. The first was from the Soonchunhyang University in Seoul, South Korea in May of 2004.
“When I took office a few years ago, the Marshallese people instructed me to give them a better education system and a better health system. To this day, my commitment to better both sectors is stronger than ever. I recommit myself and the Government to seek ways to improve these two important sectors. We will continue to find ways and to find means to give to the Marshallese people their right for better education, for better health and a better life.”
President Note also said that the College is on track as it moves to improve its campus. The President stated that the aim now is to receive full accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). “We need to move forward to full accreditation,” said the President.
“I, and others, in the Government, are cognizant of the importance of education in our country, and have repeatedly given it the highest priorities,” said the President. “We believe that the Government has to provide, and the Marshallese people deserve, the best education possible.”
“The future of our islands, will ultimately depend on how educated our peoples are. Therefore, let me reiterate that the Government will work tirelessly with the College of the Marshall Islands and the Board of Regents to ensure that the requirements and the obligations we have for our students are not compromised.”
The Honorary Doctorate Degree in Public Service Honoris Causa was presented to the President by CMI President Dr. Wilson Hess.
November 16, 2005. Close-Up Students visit the RMI Embassy in Washington
WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, November 16, 2006, Ambassador Banny de Brum and staff hosted an informative briefing and luncheon for Marshallese high school students and teachers from the Marshall Islands who are visiting Washington, DC as part of the Close Up Program. The students and teachers represented various high schools in the Marshall Islands.
The visit to the Embassy provides the students the opportunity to visit the Mission in Washington, and also gives the students the chance to learn about the roles and responsibilities that follow with working at the Mission.
The students asked a broad range of questions concerning migration to the United States for work or school, compensation for damages resulting from the Nuclear Testing Program, and types of scholarships available to Marshallese citizens.
The Ambassador and staff were pleased to welcome the students and teachers to the Embassy. This was the second Close Up visit to Washington and the Embassy this year.
August 3, 2005. U.S. President Signs Legislation for Marshall Islands Health Care Assistance and Enewetak Food Program
WASHINGTON, DC – President Bush yesterday signed into law the Department of the Interior Appropriations Act, which includes $1 million for healthcare programs in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) for FY 2006. These programs provide medical care for communities in the RMI that have been affected by the U.S. nuclear testing program. The new bill also provides $1.8 million for the Enewetak Food Program, an increase of $500,000, over the request by the Administration.
Gerald Zackios, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “President Bush’s approval of this legislation is another example of the strong cooperation our two nations enjoy. The RMI looks forward to continued consultation with the US Administration and Congress as we seek continued assistance with the RMI’s healthcare situation.”
RMI Ambassador to Washington, Banny deBrum added, “The RMI is especially gratified with the work of Representatives Charles Taylor (Republican-North Carolina) and Norm Dicks (Democrat-Washington) of the House of Representatives, and Senators Conrad Burns (Republican-Montana) and Byron Dorgan (Democrat-North Dakota). Their collective leadership ensured that the appropriations legislation passed both chambers by wide margins.”
The 177 funds are to be used to provide primary healthcare to members of the Enewetak, Bikini, Rongelap and Utrik communities who currently reside on Enewetak Atoll, Kili Island, Mejetto Island, Rongelap Atoll following resettlement, and Utrik Atoll. The funding for the Enewetak Food Program is for that atoll’s agriculture and soil rehabilitation, purchase of imported food, and also supports the operations of the atoll’s vessel as well as its Majuro office.
July 21, 2005. Senators Acknowledge Moral Responsibility to Address the Marshall Islands’ Nuclear Testing Legacy
In testimony yesterday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Foreign Minister Gerald Zackios and other representatives of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) presented their case for a renewed partnership with the U.S. Congress to address the enduring consequences of the U.S. nuclear testing program.
Foreign Minister Zackios noted at the Senate hearing that “despite our best efforts to jointly address the damages and injuries resulting from the U.S. government’s testing of 67 atmospheric weapons in our country, the RMI is unable to manage its radiological burdens. Consequently, people are dying, and people suffer from severe radiological illnesses that become untreatable in advanced stages when there is no medical monitoring capability.”
The hearing centered on the RMI’s Changed Circumstances Petition (CCP), submitted to Congress in 2000 pursuant to a legal mechanism it established by which the RMI can propose additional assistance for nuclear-related health, personal injury, and property damages.
Senators at the hearing acknowledged that the U.S. Government has a continuing responsibility to address effects of the nuclear testing program. Noting similar circumstances facing Alaskan islanders, Senator Lisa Murkowski stated that “we need to do right by those residents who were exposed to radiation.” She also thanked Representative Eni Faleomavaega, who appeared at the hearing with a strong statement of support for the RMI, for reminding those present that the U.S. Government has a moral responsibility to address the nuclear program’s enduring consequences.
During the proceedings, Senator Hiroshi Yamamura of Utrok Atoll gave a presentation on behalf of the people of Utrok, Bikini, Enewetak and Rongelap atolls, which were most significantly affected by the testing program. Chairman James H. Plasman of the RMI’s Nuclear Claims Tribunal testified on its adjudication of personal injury and property claims resulting from the nuclear tests. Neal A. Palafox, MD MPH, Professor and Chair, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii, also testified to address the medical needs and problems of the people affected by the Nuclear Testing Program. Dr. Palafox referred to the future increase in cancer cases and other illnesses resulting from exposure to ionizing radiation as stated in National Cancer Institute (NCI) study as well as the BEIR VII report from the National Academy of Science.
The Senate hearing followed a similar one held jointly by the House Resources Committee and the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, which featured Members and witnesses justifying the moral, legal and scientific grounds for additional funds for the Nuclear Claims Tribunal, healthcare programs and the loss of property.
At the conclusion of his testimony yesterday, Minister Zackios stated, “We hope that today’s hearing is the beginning of a process to jointly address our inability to respond to our radiation-related needs. The well-being of our citizens depends on our action, and there is a continued responsibility to address the burdens of Marshallese citizens resulting from the U.S. nuclear weapons testing program.” Also in attendance at the hearing were Justice Minister Donald Capelle, Health Minister Alvin Jacklick, Iroj and Senator Michael Kabua, Iroj and Senator Christopher Loeak, Senator Abacca Maddison, Senator Ismael John, Senator Tomaki Juda, Mayor James Matayoshi, Senator Maynard Alfred, Mayor Joe Saul, Mayor Jackson Ading, Mayor Eldon Note, members of the local councils of Enewetak, Bikini, and Rongelap Atolls, and Ambassador Banny de Brum and his staff at the Embassy.
During the few days in Washington prior and after the hearing, the RMI Ministers and Senators visited with members of Congress and key staffers to thank them for their continued leadership on RMI issues, particularly for their support at the recent congressional hearings on the CCP.
With the hearing process completed, it is expected that the RMI and U.S. Congress will now begin consultations on ways in which the RMI’s enduring nuclear-related problems can be properly addressed.
July 18, 2005. U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Funds Marshall Islands Education Assistance
WASHINGTON, DC – The Appropriations Committee of the U.S. Senate has approved legislation that will provide $6.1 million in education assistance funding for the Marshall Islands in fiscal year 2006.
The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriation Bill for Fiscal Year 2006 – adopted by the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee of the U.S. Senate on July 14 – provides $6.1 million in for the U.S. Government’s Supplemental Education Grants program in the RMI, which was established in 2003 as part of legislation implementing the amended Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and RMI governments. This program replaced funds received in prior years through formula grants distributed by the U.S. Department of Education, and permits the RMI to use up to five percent of the funds for administration and related technical assistance.
“Having worked closely with the Senate Appropriations Committee and others, I am pleased that it has approved funding for the Supplemental Education Grants program,” said Banny deBrum, the RMI’s Ambassador to the United States. “This action demonstrates the value that both houses of Congress place on education for the Marshallese people, and for our efforts to sustain vital programs in this area.”
Last month, the House of Representatives approved the same level of funding for the Supplemental Education Grants program. The Senate version of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriation Bill now awaits action by the full Senate, after which it will be reconciled with the House version of the bill and sent to President George W. Bush for final approval.
June 24, 2005. U.S. House of Representatives Approves $6.1 in Education Assistance for the Marshall Islands
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives today approved legislation that will provide $6.1 million in education assistance funding for the Marshall Islands in fiscal year 2006.
The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriation Bill for Fiscal Year 2006 – passed by the House of Representatives today by a vote of 250 to 151 -- provides $6.1 million in for the U.S. Government’s Supplemental Education Grants program in the RMI, which was established in 2003 as part of legislation implementing the amended Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and RMI governments. This program replaced funds received in prior years through formula grants distributed by the U.S. Department of Education.
“I am extremely gratified that the U.S. House of Representatives has funded the second year of this Supplemental Education Grants program,” said Banny deBrum, the RMI’s Ambassador to the United States. “This important step in the legislative process reflects an appreciation by the Congress for President Note’s strong commitment to enhancing educational opportunities for all Marshallese citizens.”
Looking ahead, Ambassador deBrum noted that “This positive development will help advance our efforts to obtain similar support in the U.S. Senate, and ultimately a final bill that is signed into law by President Bush.” The legislation also permits the RMI to use up to five percent of the funds for the program administration and related technical assistance.
The U.S. Senate is expected to begin consideration of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriation Bill for Fiscal Year 2006 in the coming weeks.
June 2, 2005. The Tri States’ Celebrate May Day 2005.
On Saturday, May 21, 2005, the Marshallese community in Dubuque, Iowa hosted the first Marshall Islands’ May Day event honoring the 26th Anniversary of the RMI’s Constitution. Marshallese communities from throughout the State of Iowa, as well as the states of Illinois and Wisconsin participated in the all day event held at Flora Park.
The Tri States’ May Day Chairman, Mr. Maitha Jolet welcomed everyone in the crowd. The event was opened with the RMI’s national anthem while US Army’s Sergeant First Class Moro Marcus raised the RMI flag.
Joining the Marshallese were the city of Dubuque’s Mayor, Mr. Terry Duggan and other officials from the local churches, schools, and hospitals, as well as 60-70 Ponapeians who reside in Maquoketa, Iowa, 45 miles south of Dubuque.
At the invitation of the Tri States’ May Day Committee, Mrs. Jessica Reimers-Langijota, First Secretary at the RMI Embassy in Washington, gave the keynote address on behalf of President Kessai Note and the RMI government. She thanked the Dubuque community for welcoming the Marshallese in to their community, “It is a great honor to have you share this special occasion with us”.
In commemorating the 26th Anniversary of the RMI’s Constitution, Reimers-Langijota reiterated the importance of the nation’s Constitution, “It is because of our Constitution that we value God, family, friendship and our Manit (culture)”. She also spoke about the special and unique relationship between the RMI-US as stipulated under the Compact of Free Association and resulting from the Nuclear Testing Program. “By providing your children with a good education and broadening their life experience, you are contributing to the good of Marshallese people everywhere”.
The event was just like all May Day events held on Majuro, Arkansas, and other communities throughout the US. Following the opening ceremony, there were various games such as basketball, volleyball, tug of war, donut contest, musical chairs, etc… Chairman Maitha Jolet and other organizers remarked that they hope the Tri States’ May Day will become an annual event.
Also representing President Kessai Note and the RMI Government was Holly Barker, PhD, Executive Assistant to Ambassador Banny de Brum who gave the keynote address at the May Day celebration in Seattle, Washington on Saturday, May 28, 2005. Dr. Barker noted passages in the RMI Constitution and she also expressed how she admired how strong and adaptable Marshallese people are, “what I love most about the Marshallese communities in the United States is that they have brought the strengths of their culture here to a different land both to help adapt to new surroundings, but also to share and enrich the lives of everyone who meets them”.
May 26, 2005. Congressional Hearing Demonstrates Bipartisan Desire to Address the Marshall Islands’ Nuclear Testing Legacy
At a Congressional hearing yesterday on the legacy of U.S. nuclear testing in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), a broad, bipartisan consensus emerged among Members of Congress in attendance that the RMI’s ongoing needs must be addressed. The hearing centered on the RMI’s Changed Circumstances Petition (CCP), the legal mechanism established by Congress by which the RMI can propose additional compensation for nuclear-related health, personal injury, and property damages.
The hearing, which was jointly convened by the House Resources Committee and the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, featured Members and witnesses passionately justifying the moral, legal and scientific grounds for additional funds for the Nuclear Claims Tribunal, healthcare programs and the loss of property. Through their comments and questions to witnesses, it was evident that many Members believe that the U.S. Government should do more to assist Marshall Islanders.
Foreign Minister Gerald Zackios spent several days in Washington to meet with key Members of Congress and was an official witness for the hearing. Minister Zackios represented President Kessai H. Note at the hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, Minister Zackios reported, “I was extremely pleased to see the broad support from both sides of the aisle and from both committees; I came away from the hearing feeling assured that every Member present wants to examine and address the needs of the RMI linked to the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Testing Program”. Minister Zackios, speaking for the government and all Marshallese, also requested that Congress enter into the official record a statement by the four atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrok.
“The tone and substance of the Member of Congress at the hearing was extremely positive,” said Banny deBrum, the RMI’s ambassador to the U.S. “Much work must still be done to convince Congress and the Bush Administration of the merits of the CCP, but I am confident we are on the right track."
The Senate has signaled that it will conduct a similar hearing on the CCP in the coming months. The government of the Marshall Islands looks forward to its continued work with Congress and the Administration on this critical matter.
Accompanying Minister Zackios so the hearing was Alvin T. Jacklick, Minister of Health. Senators, Mayors, and representatives from the 4 atolls were in attendance as was Iroijlaplap and Senator Mike Kabua.
April 6, 2005. FUNDRAISING DRIVE FOR INJURED MARSHALLESE SOLDIER
On March 31, 2005, a citizen of the Republic of the Marshall Islands was severely injured in Iraq when the vehicle he was in ran over an IED (improvised explosive device). While SSG Paul Lejjena is undergoing medical treatment at the Brookes Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the RMI Embassy in Washington is taking the initiative to do a fundraising drive to help the family of SSG Lejjena during this difficult time when travel, accommodation and other expenses are inevitable.
All checks, money orders, or cashiers checks should be made payable to the Embassy of the Marshall Islands. Please do not send cash. All donors will be noted and shared with the family of SSG Paul and Mrs. Karin Lejjena.
Your continued thoughts and prayers for a full and speedy recovery of SSG Paul Lejjena is greatly needed and appreciated.
Please send your donation to:
United States or other:
Embassy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands
Attn: Donna Dizon or Jessica Reimers-Langijota
2433 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
Tel. (202) 234-5414 ext 10 or 11
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Attn: Viola Milne-Chonggum or Keyoka Kabua
Majuro, MH 96960
Tel (692) 625-3181/3012
February 10, 2005. PRESIDENT NOTE ENCOURAGES PUBLIC OPINIONS ON CCP
Majuro —RMI President Kessai H. Note, this morning in the Nitijela (Parliament), encouraged the public to express their opinions and ideas on the Changed Circumstances Petition (CCP). The President said that his office, along with other government offices involved in the CCP, will continue to inform the public on progresses. “I encourage the public to voice there concerns and share their ideas as we move forward together with our Change Circumstances Petition,” said President Note. “We will continue to work with national representatives, local and traditional leaders and the Marshallese people to insure that the outcomes of the CCP will be beneficial to the Marshallese people.”
The President also added that he cannot predict the outcomes of the CCP hearings in the U.S. Congress; however, he will work tirelessly towards full and fair compensation to the Marshallese citizens affected by unprecedented U.S. nuclear testing in their islands while they were under American governance. “The RMI government has enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the Congress for more than five decades,” said President Note. “Our bilateral relationship -- the Compact legislation that formalizes our relations, the U.S. domestic programs our citizens utilize, cooperation with the U.S. at the United Nations and partnership on vital national security programs -- speaks volumes about our common values and shared commitment to democratic government under the rule of law. We will not stray. We will move forward together as one people and one nation.”
Following the President’s statement on the CCP, he thanked the government staffs who organized, planned and negotiated important RMI objectives and goals during the President’s trip to Mauritius for the 10th year review of the Barbados Program of Action (BPOA+10). “The Ministries involved (in the BPOA) staffs worked tirelessly in our efforts in the international community to promote our agenda,” said President Note. “I thank them for their dedication.”
November 22, 2004. PRESIDENT NOTE ANNOUNCES BREAK THROUGH IN D.C.
Majuro —President Kessai H. Note announced this morning a major breakthrough in the United States Congress following words from the RMI’s Embassy in Washington that the United States Congress passed $6.1 million for Supplemental Education Grant (SEG), $1 million for the 177 Health Care Program (HCP) and $1 million for payments to replace the Prior Service Trust Fund.
In a radio address this morning in Majuro, the President said that he was pleased to share the information with the Marshallese people. “I am pleased this morning to announce to the Marshallese people that the U.S. Congress has approved our request for funding of the SEG, 177 HCP and the Prior Service Trust Fund,” said President Note. “These funding will allow us to move forward with our goals of improving our important sectors of education and health.”
The Bill, passed late Saturday afternoon by the House of Representatives and the Senate, states that the RMI will receive:
• $6.1 million to carry out Supplemental Education Grants (SEG) program and will allow up to 5 percent of the amount to administer the SEG programs and to obtain technical assistance.
• $1 million to assist health care programs in the RMI (proposed by the Senate) for the people of Enewetak, Bikini, Rongelap and Utrik.
• $1 million for payments to replace the Prior Service Trust Fund. The Bill will provide: (a) the pension systems of RMI, Palau, FSM and CNMI to assume responsibility for the enrollees of the Prior Service Benefits Trust Fund; (b) the allocation of potential future U.S. funding, if appropriated, among these four pension systems and payment of their benefit; (c) a reasonable transition overhead rate; (d) appropriate changes in benefits, if any, and; (e) for the termination of certification and enrollment of new beneficiaries by March 31, 2005. The funding will also direct that the $1 million in funding should be reprogrammed for general technical assistances uses if no agreement can be reached.
The funding for the programs follows discussion during a working visit to Washington in June by President Note, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gerald M. Zackios, and Compact Negotiator Bobby Muller accompanied by Ambassador Banny deBrum.
While in Washington, the President met with members and leaders of both Houses of Congress and with top Administration officials from the Department of Interior, State and the Department of Defense.
President Note and Minister Zackios are expected to visit Washington next year to meet with high-level U.S. government officials and members of the Congress on the Change Circumstances Petition.
November 22, 2004. U.S. CONGRESS APPROVES $6.1 IN EDUCATION ASSISTANCE, $1 MILLION IN HEALTH CARE SUPPORT FOR THE MARSHALL ISLANDS
WASHINGTON, DC —As part of its final effort to fund for U.S. Government operations in Fiscal Year 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed measures on November 20 that provide significant assistance to the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
The final funding bill – known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2005 – provides $6.1 million in FY 2005 for a Supplemental Education Grants program in the RMI, which replaces funds received in the past through formula grants distributed by the U.S. Department of Education. Approval of these funds also fulfills a commitment made by Congress last year when it established the Supplemental Education Grants program, as part of the bill implementing the renewed provisions of the Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and RMI.
“We are extremely gratified that the U.S. Congress has fully funded this new Supplemental Education Grants program,” said Banny deBrum, the RMI’s Ambassador to the United States. “This assistance will permit our government to further President Note’s strong commitment to enhancing educational opportunities for all Marshallese citizens.” The legislation also permits the RMI to use up to five percent of the funds for technical assistance as it assumes authority for administering these programs.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act also contains $1 million in FY 2005 for the Section 177 Health Care Program in the RMI, which services those who continue to be affected by the U.S. nuclear testing program. Financing for this program has until now been provided through the RMI’s Nuclear Claims Tribunal, which was initially funded by the U.S. Congress but has now become nearly depleted.
Ambassador deBrum noted that “funding for the Section 177 program comes at a critical time for the RMI, since the Nuclear Claims Tribunal can no longer support the doctors and other personnel who have provided essential services in both Majuro and on the atolls. Recognition by the U.S. Congress of the continuing need for this program is also important as we prepare for a review on Capitol Hill of our Changed Circumstances Petition.”
The RMI’s Changed Circumstances Petition, first submitted to the Congress in 2000, provides justification for new funding by the U.S. Government to address the long-term health and environmental effects of the U.S. nuclear testing program. Several Congressional committees have agreed to conduct hearings on this matter in the coming months.
Having passed both the House and Senate, the Consolidated Appropriations Act is expected to be sent to President George W. Bush for his signature in the coming days.
October 5, 2004. AMBASSADORS PRESENT CREDENTIALS TO PRESIDENT
Majuro —President Kessai H. Note was presented with credentials from Non-Resident Ambassador Eugene Berg, France Ambassador-designate and Non-Resident Ambassador Robert Vornis, Royal Netherlands Ambassador-designate to the RMI earlier this afternoon.
The President congratulated Ambassador Berg on his new post as Non-resident Ambassador to the RMI and acknowledged that the appointment illustrated the importance of the bilateral relationship between the RMI and France.
President Note made mention to the ACP-EU (African Caribbean Pacific-European Union), which the RMI is a member of. “We appreciate France’s modern development and advancement,” said Note. “Being a member of the European Union reflects France’s tremendous economic, social, and technological progress achieved in recent years. As a member of the ACP-EU family, the Marshall Islands looks forward to France’s support and guidance.” The President pointed out that the RMI is committed to make further efforts to promote a stronger friendship with France while achieving mutual social and economic benefits.
Following Ambassador Berg’s presentation, President Note welcomed and received Ambassador Vornis’ credentials. President Note extended the warm welcome to Vornis and invited him to experience the warmth hospitality and the friendliness of the Marshallese people. The President further showed appreciation to the Netherlands government for their continuing recognition of the strong relationship between the two countries with Vornis’ appointment.
Vornis in return pointed out that Netherlands, being the President of the European Union, will support the RMI in the Union. “The Republic of the Marshall Islands has our full support in the European Union,” said Vornis. Vornis also mentioned that the RMI and Netherlands share a common interest in environment as both countries are affected by sea-level rise.
Speaker Litokwa Tomeing, Members of the Cabinet and Chief Secretary Phillip Kabua were on hand during the presentations.
September 20, 2004. PRESIDENT NOTE ADDRESSES MEETING OF WORLD LEADERS
New York —President Kessai H. Note today addressed other World Leaders during the Action Against Hunger and Poverty meeting chaired by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil.
In his statement, President Note said that social and economic developments are needed to reduce poverty and hunger. “The fight against hunger and poverty is inextricably linked to progress in economic and social development,” said Note. “Thus, in order for developing countries to win the fight against hunger and poverty, a renewed political commitment is required to make economic and social development our highest priority, both at the national and international levels.”
Prior to his statement on Monday, the President met with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to seek support on the Change Circumstances Petition with the United States. The AJC, which has strong ties to the Congress and Administration, assured the President that they will do whatever they can to support the RMI on the Hill.
Referring to the RMI’s support to Israel in the United Nations, AJC President E. Robert Goodkind said that the RMI is a true friend of Israel. “Israel has many friends,” said Goodkind. “However, the Marshall Islands is a true ally and friend with its continuous support to Israel in the United Nations.”
The President will be attending the opening of the UNGA General Debate on Tuesday and will address the General Assembly Wednesday afternoon.
June 15, 2004. CCP AND 177 HCP GETTING ATTENTION ON THE HILL
Washington, DC —President Kessai H. Note met with Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, and members of both houses of the U.S. Congress earlier today to get the U.S. government’s attention on the unsettled nuclear issues pertaining to the Marshall Islands. President Note, who will be in Washington until the end of the week, told Armitage and members of Congress that the nuclear issue needs to be addressed. “The Change Circumstances Petition needs Congressional hearings, and the Administration needs to submit its findings,” said Note. “It is only right that the people affected by the nuclear testing in the RMI are fully compensated.”
President Note met today with Congressmen Jim Leach (Chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Asia), Tom Lantos (Senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee), and Senators Daniel Akaka (Energy and Natural Resources Committee), Conrad Burns (Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee), and Larry Craig (Chairman of the Senate Public Lands Subcomittee) seeking support for the CCP and the 177 Health Care Program.
Lantos praised the President for this leadership and for pushing the RMI’s issues in the Congress. “I strongly support having a hearing on the CCP,” said Lantos. “You can count me as one of your friends on Capitol Hill.” Leach also emphasized to the President that the CCP issue needs serious attention. “There is a credible basis for moving forward with a hearing,” Leach said.
Foreign Minister Gerald Zackios said that the issues are getting Congress’ attention. “Key members of Congress clearly see the importance of the issue and the need to properly compensate the people of the RMI who were affected by the nuclear testing,” said Zackios. “The President’s message to Congress and the Administration is clear—these issues need to be addressed, and we’ve receive commitments on hearings next year.”
The President will attend meetings on Wednesday and Thursday. He will then depart for Majuro on Friday.
Ambassador Banny deBrum, Embassy and Presidential staffs accompanied President Note and Minister Zackios to the meetings.
June 6, 2004. Congress Honors the Marshall Islands
Washington, DC — The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously with a roll call vote of 379 – 0 passed a resolution this afternoon commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the RMI Constitution. The legislation, introduced on April 30th by Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ), reviewed the unique history of the relations between the RMI and the United States and hailed the RMI’s commitment to democratic government.
Speaking from his office in Washington, DC, RMI Ambassador to the U.S. Banny deBrum said, “On behalf of all Marshallese, I appreciated Congress’s continued recognition of our nation. Congressman Flake is to be commended for his leadership on RMI issues in Congress. This resolution highlights our two nations’ partnership and our shared values of democracy based on the rule of law, limited government and individual liberty.”
In June, Marshallese President Kessai Note carried out a working visit to Washington to discuss healthcare and education issues with Members of Congress and the Bush Administration. President Note also met with Congressman Flake to express his gratitude for assisting the RMI.
May 4, 2004. COMPACT, AS AMENDED NOW IMPLEMENTED
Majuro —Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerald M. Zackios and Mr. Randall Schirver, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, exchanged notes to memorialize the full implementation of the Compact of Free Association, as Amended on Saturday May 1, 2004.
“The full bilateral approval of the Compact, as Amended in the U.S. Congress during the fall and the signing of the Compact by President Bush in early December clearly defines this relationship,” said Minister Zackios. “With the exchanging of notes and the implementation of the Compact, as Amended, today, the two countries have reaffirmed the special and unique relationship of ‘free association’ as embodied in the Compact,” said Zackios.
With the implementation of the Compact, as Amended all agreed amendments to the Compact are now in full force and effect, such as:
• Marshallese traveling to the U.S. require a valid passport.
• Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will be replaced by a valid passport duly stamped to indicate that employment is authorized.
• Continued access to essential FEMA programs through the next term of the Compact including essential public infrastructure rehabilitation programs.
• Continued access and eligibility for Pell Grants and Special Education programs through 2023. In lieu of other federal education programs, an annual supplemental education grant in the amount of $6.1 million starting in 2005 through 2023, adjusted for inflation. This amount is in addition to the amounts described in Section 211, and would replace several current federal programs such as Head Start and the Workforce Investment Act programs.
• Continuation of food and agricultural programs for Bikini and Enewetak including an annual appropriation of not less than $1.3 million adjusted by inflation until 2023 for the planting and agricultural program on Enewetak.
• Provision for supplementing the Rongelap Resttlement Fund with an additional $5.3 million to be paid over the next 3 years starting in FY 2005.
• Provision for supplemental judicial training funds for judges and officials of the RMI judiciary.
• Continued access to federal program availability under the Compensatory Adjustments provisions in the Compact Act (Small Business Administration, Economic Development Administration, Rural Utilities Services, Job Corps, and the Department of Commerce programs relating to tourism and marine resource development.
• The establishment of the Compact Trust Fund with the RMI and U.S. Governments making their initial contributions.
• The establishment of an escrow account in the name of the RMI Government for additional Kwajalein payments to be made under the amended MUORA.
Although the Compact, as Amended is now implemented, it will take some time for different agencies and departments within the two governments to fully act on it. “We will have to be patient as steps are put in place to ensure full implementation by different agencies and departments,” said Zackios. “Although it is no longer required, Marshallese working in the U.S. should continue to obtain an EAD to ensure that there’s no confusion between their employers and different departments and agencies in the governments.”
Witnessing the exchanging of notes were, President Kessai H. Note, First Lady Note, RMI Cabinet Ministers, Ambassador Banny deBrum, Ambassador Greta N. Morris, Deputy Assistant Secretary David Cohen, Brigadier General James L. Kennon, RMI Government staff, U.S. Embassy staff and members of the press.
April 16, 2004. President Note Addresses CMI
Majuro —President Kessai H. Note was on hand to deliver the keynote speech during the 11th Foundation Day for the College of the Marshall Islands (CMI). The President reiterated the government’s commitment to education and noted that the government’s allocated budget for the college has tripled from previous years.
President Note assured the public that the college has the government’s full commitment and support towards helping CMI have its accreditation fully reinstated by WASC. “The importance of our efforts and undertaking towards gaining a positive result is reflected in the government’s funding support to the college, which has tripled from previous years,” said the President.
CMI has gone through rigorous changes and challenges since its inception in April of 1993. While acknowledging the challenges, however, the President stated that, “We need to work together to make the foundation of our institution of higher learning one that will withstand the challenges of today.”
“This I believe is our most important and immediate challenge. And no one single entity or body will or can meet and overcome this challenge by itself. It is a joint enterprise. Only through a concerted and willing effort on the part of federal and local governments, our partner nations, the private sector, parents, students and the college. Only through the sincerity of our commitment, our generous support and encouragement can we hope to continue to enjoy fruits of our labor,” said President Note.
The President said that the RMI needs to be focused in “developing an educational system that is at once authentic and modern, and accessible to all, one that this country and its citizens can afford, and one that meets the highest standard and quality requirements. It must be geared to our social and cultural realities, and it must have as one of its primary goals the ability to provide the manpower essential for national development and progress.”
September 17, 2003. Briefings on the RMI’s Changed Circumstances Petition to Congressional Staffers
Washington, DC — The RMI Embassy in Washington, D.C. has been working with staff members from Capitol Hill to arrange for staff briefings on the content of the RMI’s Changed Circumstances Petition.
The RMI government first submitted its Changed Circumstances Petition to the U.S. Congress in September, 2000. After the change in the U.S. government, the RMI government resubmitted the petition to the U.S. in 2001. Congress asked the Bush Administration to analyze the petition and report back Congress. There has been no response from the Bush Administration.
On Friday, March 26, 2004, the Embassy organized the first of a two-part briefing. Dr. Holly M. Barker presented a 45-minute presentation to staff from the Senate Energy Committee, the House Resources Committee, and the House International Relations Committee. Following the presentation, Congressional staffers spent an hour and a half discussing several of the issues highlighted in the Embassy’s presentation.
The Embassy presentation focused on the RMI’s request for equity – equity in terms of the level of health care and compensation provided to U.S. citizens exposed to radiation, and equity in terms of clean-up of radiologically contaminated areas.
In the presentation to Hill staffers, Barker noted:
There was nuclear weapons testing in the United States and there was nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands. The U.S. government conducted its nuclear weapons testing program in the Marshall Islands because it recognized the hazards of these activities. There is great disparity between healthcare and compensation programs for the people affected by both of these testing programs, and in levels of funding available for clean-up activities.
6.3 billion curies of Iodine-131 was released to the atmosphere as a result of the nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, 42 times greater than the 150 million curies released by the atmospheric testing in Nevada, 150 times greater than the estimated 40 million curies released as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, and 8,500 times greater than the 739,000 curies released from AEC operations at Hanford, Washington.
The RMI government looks to U.S. government standards for addressing radiological contamination and exposure issues with its own citizens as the basis for considering what is appropriate for the Marshall Islands. The RMI government is looking for equity in levels of care, funding, and protection – Marshallese citizens should receive the same levels of consideration as U.S. citizens, particularly since the Marshall Islands was a trust territory of the U.S. government during the weapons testing program.
Legal counsels from Rongelap, Bikini and Enewetak, as well as scientific and medical advisors who assisted with the drafting of the RMI’s Changed Circumstances Petition contributed significantly to the question and answer period after Barker’s presentation.
The second of the two briefings will take place on Friday, April 23, 2004. Mr. William Graham, Public Advocate for the Nuclear Claims Tribunal, will focus on the credibility of the Tribunal process, and on its comparability with U.S. government programs. The Tribunal’s personal injury awards were based on comparable determinations made by U.S. law. Similarly, the Tribunal’s property damage awards are based on the notion that Marshallese citizens are entitled to a comparable level of radiation protection standards as U.S. citizens. More specifically, the Tribunal uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 15 mrem per person per year standard of safe public exposure to radiation.
The RMI Embassy has offered to provide a similar briefing on the contents of the RMI’s Changed Circumstances Petition to the Bush Administration. To date, the Bush Administration has not been interested in receiving a briefing from the RMI government.
Congressional Members who recently visited the RMI, including the Chairman of the House Resources Committee, Richard Pombo, have said that they intend to hold hearings to consider the elements of the RMI’s Changed Circumstances Petition. The Embassy is urging Congress to follow-through with the hearing.
The petition requests funding to build, staff, and maintain a hospital that can adequately address radiation related health care needs, and to provide additional funding to the Nuclear Claims Tribunal so the Tribunal can pay all of its awards in full. Currently, nearly 45% of Marshallese citizens die without receiving their full awards from the Tribunal due to an inadequacy of Tribunal funds. In comparison, Downwinders in the U.S. receive full funding for their awards within six weeks.