CAMDEN— When asked about being nominated for a 2016 Nobel Peace Prize as part of an international legal team representing the Republic of the Marshall Islands to hold accountable the nine countries in possession of nuclear weapons, Rutgers Board of Governors Professor Roger Clark would rather talk about the team’s oral arguments in front of the world’s highest court in early March.“It’s a hard one to win, but I think we’ve got a shot,” says Clark, who has been advocating against nuclear weapons and their testing since 1964. If the team of nine international attorneys from the Netherlands, Italy, the United States, and the United Kingdom advance their case at The Hague, they could further the cause of total nuclear disarmament.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is using international legal strategies to rid the world of nuclear weapons because from 1946 to 1958 the United States detonated some 60 nuclear weapons there and as Clark says, “left behind a big mess.” That mess is the equivalent of 1.7 Hiroshima bombs detonated daily for a dozen years.
The cases, which are currently proceeding against the United Kingdom, India and Pakistan, contend that the nuclear-armed states are in breach of their obligations under international law to negotiate in good faith to rid the world of these weapons of mass destruction. The hearings in March explore whether these three states have properly accepted the jurisdiction of the Court over the cases. The United States has declined to accept the Court’s jurisdiction over these issues.
This month, the International Peace Bureau, which itself won the prize in 1910, announced its nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize to the Republic of the Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum and its legal team of which the Rutgers Law professor is a part. The Nobel Peace Prize Laureates are announced in October with a ceremony in Oslo in December. In 2015, the Swedish Parliament conferred the “Right Livelihood Award” (known as “the Alternative Nobel Prize”) on Ambassador de Brum and the People of the Marshall Islands “in recognition of their vision and courage to take legal action against the nuclear powers for failing to honor their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and customary international law.”
“To call this nomination a singular honor would be a gross understatement,” says John Oberdiek, Rutgers Law School acting co-dean in Camden. “Whether Roger and his team wins or not, the nomination is an extraordinary recognition of a lifetime spent using international law to rid the world of nuclear weapons.”
The Rutgers Law professor’s legal advocacy efforts in the Pacific Islands and in other small nations that he says “have no army so must use the law,” inspired the recent book For The Sake of Present and Future Generations: Essays on International Law, Crime and Justice in Honour of Roger S. Clark (Brill/Niijhoff, July 2015). The book includes contributions from 41 distinguished scholars and its first essay is written by Clark’s former student José Ramos-Horta, ex-president of East Timor and co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.
While the Rutgers professor has been called one of the intellectual and moral fathers of the International Criminal Court, for his work representing Samoa in the negotiations to create the Court, he shrugs at this moniker. “I’m a teacher. That’s what I’ve done all my life. It’s been an exciting career and Rutgers has been a good place to do it for over 43 years.”
A Haddonfield resident and graduate of Victoria University in New Zealand and Columbia Law School, Clark joined the Rutgers Law faculty in 1972. Since that time he’s been the first professor from Rutgers to present a case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, arguing there on behalf of Samoa in 1995 and 1996 to outlaw nuclear weapons; served as a member of the United Nations Committee on Crime Prevention and Control; authored more than 10 books, including Understanding International Criminal Law (LexisNexis, Newark. 3rd ed. 2013) and over 150 articles and book chapters; and served on the editorial boards of various publications, among other significant accomplishments.