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"Five countries cannot arrogate to themselves forever the exclusive privilege of having their fingers on the nuclear trigger…. If the laws of humanity and the dictates of the public conscience demand the prohibition of such weapons, the five nuclear-weapon states, however powerful, cannot stand against them."-- Razali Ismail, Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the United Nations, to the International Court of Justice, 7 Nov. 1995

The Legality of Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons:
A Guide to the Historic Opinion of the International Court of Justice

By John Burroughs

Forward by Phon van den Biesen
International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms
Lit Verlag, Muenster, 1997

The 20th century has been defined in large part by the unleashing of the terrible destructive power of the atom, and the subsequent struggle to overcome the threat of nuclear annihilation.  If humankind survives, the 8 July 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, and the extraordinary process that led up to it, will have played an essential role.  The Legality of Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons is a concise yet thorough guide to the case.  In straightforward language, it describes the history of this unprecedented initiative and summarizes and explains the Court's findings, and the separate statements of the judges.  States' arguments to the Court, including the moving testimony of the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are also described and excerpted.  The author provides cogent expert analysis and, most importantly, reveals how the opinion imparts hope and points the way to the future: 

The Court has authoritatively interpreted law which states acknowledge they must follow, including humanitarian law protecting civilians from indiscriminate effects of warfare, the United Nations Charter, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The implications are profound: abandonment of reliance on the threatened use of nuclear weapons as an instrument of national policy, and expeditious elimination of nuclear arsenals.  The opinion can be cited as an authoritative statement of the law in any political or legal setting -- including the United Nations and national courts and parliaments -- in which nuclear weapon policies are challenged.

John Burroughs, an attorney with the non-profit Western States Legal Foundation in California, served as legal coordinator for the World Court Project/International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms at the November 1995 hearings before the International Court of Justice.

"The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law ... There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control." - Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, 8 July 1996 

"This book shows how courageous states from the developing world, working in concert with visionary lawyers, physicians and other sectors of international civil society, boldly obtained astonishing results from the highest court in the world.  The World Court clearly ruled that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is illegal in almost all conceivable circumstances.  The Court further underlined the unconditional obligation of the nuclear weapon states to begin and conclude negotiations on nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.  It is now up to all of us to determine the follow-up, whatever the opposition. We cannot end this century without clear commitments and steps to eliminate nuclear weapons." - Razali Ismail, Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the United Nations, President of the United Nations General Assembly, 1996-1997 

"It is not often that a judicial opinion on a given question is both hailed and criticized by participants on all sides of the question.  This book, written by a leading member of the team that helped to prepare the case on the illegality of the threat and use of nuclear weapons, explains succinctly what the World Court, and the judges in their separate statements, did and did not say.  In so doing, it makes a compelling case for the proposition that the Opinion represents a milestone on the road to nuclear abolition." - Peter Weiss, Co-President, International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms 


Available from Western States Legal Foundation

Price $12 for North America (includes shipping) (contact re price for other parts of the world) 

Number of copies: _______________________________ 

Name: ___________________________________________ 

Address: ________________________________________ 


Amount enclosed: $ ______________________________ 

Please make check payable to Western States Legal Foundation.   Include this form.  Mail to: 

Western States Legal Foundation 1440 Broadway, Suite 500
Oakland, California USA 94612
Phone: (510) 839-5877 Fax: (510) 839-5397

Western States Legal Foundation belongs to Abolition 2000, a Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons.



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