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The Marshall Islands' unforgettable voice
Marshallese woman Darleen Keju-Johnson's passionate address to a World Council of Churches assembly thirty years ago, galvanised international support for compensation for the US nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands. Darleen died in 1996, and her husband Giff Johnson has written a book about her and the health programs she started entitled 'Don't Ever Whisper'.

US nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands ended more than half a century ago but its people are still paying the price.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: US nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands ended more than half a century ago but its people are still paying the price.

One of the early campaigners for the victims was Darleen Keju-Johnson, a Marshallese woman whose passionate address to a World Council of Churches assembly 30 years ago galvanised international support.

Darleen died from cancer in 1996 and her husband, Giff Johnson, has now written a book about her and the health programs she started.

Pacific correspondent Sean Dorney met Giff Johnson on the Marshalls.

DARLEEN KEJU, PACIFIC HEALTH PIONEER: Before we knew it, our islands were blown up. The United States government did not bother to tell us that four of our islands, two in Bikini and two in Enewetak, were blown off the face of the earth.

GIFF JOHNSON, EDITOR, MARSHALL ISLANDS JOURNAL: Darleen Keju was an amazing Marshall Islander and I was quite lucky to have gotten to know her, and maybe you could say I got to come along on the ride.

But Darleen was typical of many Marshall Islanders in that, well into her 20s, having gone to school in the US for many years, she knew absolutely nothing about the nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands even though she grew up on islands downwind of the Bikini and Enewetak test sites.

SEAN DORNEY, REPORTER: Darleen Keju told that 1983 Church conference an American official negotiated with the chief on Bikini Atoll for the nuclear tests to take place.

DARLEEN KEJU: He told the chief that the US government were testing the bombs, and I quote: "For the good of mankind and to end all world wars."

The chief didn't know what that meant, because in 1946 none of us spoke English. So he thought the word, 'mankind', it has something to do with God. So he told the US officer, he said: "In the name of God, I'm willing to let my people go".

But there was one thing the US officer did not tell the chief. He did not tell them that he and his people will never return home.

NEWS ANNOUNCER: A brilliance of 500 suns lights hundreds of miles of the Pacific and the force of a million tonnes of TNT is released.

GIFF JOHNSON: After getting interested in the issue, she and I went on a trip through the northern islands nearby boat, by a cargo ship, just bouncing around island to a land interviewing people. And those interviews, particularly with women talking about birth problems and health, other health problems that they associated with the fall-out from tests in the 1950s, just motivated Darleen not only to learn more about the issue, but to start talking about it publicly.

Because she looked at these folks on these remote islands, they didn't speak English; I mean, they were totally disconnected from the world, yet, expressing these huge concerns about fall-out that they felt had affected their families', not just health, but also psychologically, the issues of living in a radioactive environment.

DARLEEN KEJU: I've talked to many women and men in the population. They say, "We have babies we call jellyfish babies. A baby is born on the labour table and moves up and down like this. It is an ugly thing. It is not shaped like a human being. It moves up and down like this on the labour table, because that thing is breathing." That is a baby. We have more than 10 of these all over throughout the islands.

SEAN DORNEY: Giff Johnson says that 30 years ago Darleen was proposing a detailed radiological health survey to get some baseline data about radioactive contamination.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur has now recommended the same thing in his recent report to the UN Human Rights Council.

PHILLIP MULLER, MARSHALL ISLANDS FOREIGN MINISTER: The extent of the exposure was included all of the Marshall Islands. And so many of our leaders, both traditional and government leaders, are still very worried that up to this point we still don't know the full extent of the damage and who is going to pay for all of that damage.

TOM ARMBRUSTER, US AMBASSADOR TO THE MARSHALL ISLANDS: We have declassified documents this year. I handed over 600 or 700 recently declassified documents at the request of the government of the Marshall Islands.

GIFF JOHNSON: Declassified reports from the US government conclusively show that many of these islands, including the islands that Darleen grew up on, were subjected to fall-out significantly above what was labelled as the acceptable exposure, the maximum exposure level for Americans. They received significantly more than that, but the US government has never acknowledged that many of these islands were exposed.

SEAN DORNEY: The United States National Cancer Institute conducted studies into cases of cancer in the Marshall Islands. It found those who were young at the time of the tests were of special concern, especially those from the northern atolls, which is where Darleen grew up. Doses of radiation there were hundreds of times greater than those elsewhere.

GIFF JOHNSON: She had breast cancer. Actually had breast cancer in both breasts, which is maybe a little bit unusual. Her mother had breast cancer. Her father also had breast cancer, and of course breast cancer is extremely rare in men.

DARLEEN KEJU: My island that is up in the north is also contaminated. I, too, have three tumours in me. I'm about to have surgery and I'm frightened. We don't know what is going on. All we know is we must travel throughout the world and share this kind of experience from the bombs so that we will stop them before it gets to you. Remember, we are the victims of the nuclear age. Don't become a victim.

JIM MIDDLETON: The late Darleen Keju-Johnson.

The book her husband Giff has written about her is called 'Don't Ever Whisper.'
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