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US continues to fall short on the Compact

Statement on the Compact of Free Association

Benetick Kabua Maddison, ED/CEO, Marshallese Educational Initiative

10/19/2023


A renewed Compact of Free Association, an agreement between the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, was signed Monday by US and RMI officials and is awaiting both US Congressional and Nitijela (RMI Parliament) approval.


We are gratified that the new agreement includes bringing back access to federal programs for Marshallese residents living in the United States. However, we recognize that this is a first step in a long process for Marshallese residents to actually realize these benefits given various barriers.


Speaking about the new agreement, Benetick Kabua Maddison, Executive Director of the Marshallese Educational Initiative says, “While we are pleased to see the restoration of federal benefits of Marshallese residents, we are disappointed that the U.S. government continues to ignore the ongoing consequences of the nuclear testing legacy by 1) maintaining that only four atolls within the Marshall Islands are nuclear affected, and 2) reiterating that “full and final settlement of all [nuclear] claims” have been made.”


The United States conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands from 1946-1958 of which the biological, ecological, and cultural consequences are ongoing. Despite the fact that all Marshallese are nuclear affected, the US government continues to insist that only four atolls­–those on which tests were conducted and those that received the heaviest fallout from the Bravo detonation on March 1, 1954–were affected. This limits health benefits to only Four Atoll populations, or 177 groups, and allows the US government to deny culpability of ongoing issues.


The US government must take full responsibility for damages inflicted on Marshallese lands and bodies by admitting the actual breadth of destruction wrought by the nuclear tests. “Only then can we start to discuss pathways to nuclear justice,” Maddison says.


Regarding the addition of Compact Impact Funds to the agreement, Maddison cautions that “the US federal government must ensure that officials who oversee these benefits, including those who review applications at the state level, are educated about the status of COFA residents. All too frequently Marshallese residents struggle to acquire benefits for which they currently qualify due to this ignorance and the language barrier. These issues must be addressed.”

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