By Nic Maclellan (Islands Business) in Apia, Samoa

APIA, 04 SEPTEMBER 2017 (ISLANDS BUSINESS) — Pacific leaders paid tribute to former Ambassador Tony de Brum of the Marshall Islands, at the opening of the Smaller Island States (SIS) meeting in Apia, Samoa.

De Brum, a Pacific champion of climate action and nuclear disarmament, died last month in Majuro at age 72.

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At the opening of the SIS meeting, Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna praised de Brum’s service to the region.

“Tony de Brum was somebody that I knew personally for many years, and particularly in climate change work that we undertook as a region,” said Puna.

“We owe him a debt of gratitude for what he’s done – his sterling efforts working towards the Paris Agreement in 2015, with Prime Minister Sopoaga [of Tuvalu] and other leaders of the Pacific. Tony de Brum was an integral and important part of the united front that we in the Pacific presented to the world in Paris.”

The SIS meeting is held each year in the lead up to the annual Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting. The SIS group includes eight Forum member states: Tuvalu, Kiribati, Cook Islands, Nauru, Niue, Marshall Islands, Palau and Federated States of Micronesia.

Tony Anton de Brum was born on 26 February 1945 in Tuvalu, but grew up on the Marshallese atoll of Likiep. de Brum helped negotiate the RMI Compact of Free Association with the United States and led the drafting of the Marshall Islands constitution. He served over decades in a range of ministerial posts in RMI governments, including as foreign minister and RMI climate ambassador.

In 2014, de Brum led an initiative to file lawsuits against the nine nuclear weapons states in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations’ highest court. The case argued that the nuclear powers had breached their obligations under international law by failing to pursue negotiations for nuclear disarmament, as required under Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

After preliminary hearings of the case against India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom, the case was ultimately dismissed last year. However the proceedings against Britain were only ended by a casting vote of the court president, after an 8-8 deadlock. The ICJ ruled that the Marshall Islands has “special reasons for concern” about nuclear disarmament, because it is living with the health and environmental effects of 67 US nuclear tests.

de Brum was also a champion of low-lying atoll nations during global climate negotiations. At the Paris climate change talks in 2015, de Brum was central to the High Ambition Coalition, calling on industrialised nations to take more urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Incoming SIS Chair, President Baron Waqa of Nauru, also paid tribute to de Brum and passed condolences to President Hilda C. Heine, leading the Marshall Islands delegation at this week’s regional gathering.

“All of us had a very close friendship with him. Tony was a champion on climate change -indeed he was our older brother. For me personally, I have blood ties to Tony and it was very personal and emotional when I heard of his passing.”

de Brum is survived by his wife, Rosalie, daughters Doreen, Dolores and Sally Ann, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Leaders also presented condolences for the death of Marshall Islands vice Minister Mattlan Zackhras who died suddenly last month, aged 47. Last year, Zackhras was appointed as Minister in Assistance to the President of Marshall Islands, a key post in the new Heine administration.

SIS members also acknowledged the work of veteran SIS participant Sir Toke Talagi of Niue, who was appointed Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (KNZM) in March this year…..PACNEWS [/restrict]