...we are standing up to express the belief of a peaceful nuclear free nation, a nuclear free world...

Acceptance speech – High Chief Ibedul Gibbons and the people of Belau


On behalf of the people of the Republic of Palau I bring you greetings and warm regards from the tropical isles of sunshine and blue skies thousands of miles across the sea. I stand before you with happiness and awe that I have been designated to receive the Right Livelihood Award.

It is a great honor for me and I would like to thank you for making it possible for me to be here today. But more appropriately, I thank you on behalf of the people of Palau I represent for whom this award is given.

In our island tradition the role of a chief is to protect and provide; to reconcile and unify; and to lead and serve the interest of his people. This traditional role has been very much a part of an ever-growing awareness and need for popular representation and participation. I stand before you in this capacity to act for our people in receiving this award.

This occasion means so much to us. It means that small island nations are now recognized. It means that our struggle is no longer ours alone. It means that all people, all nations, – big and small – should join their efforts now to work for a peaceful world, for a nuclear free world, for a world ruled not by alienation but by solidarity; a world ruled not by suspicion but by trust; a world ruled not by misery but by prosperity. The significance of this award for the republic of Palau cannot be overemphasized.

Historical and geographical

Please allow me to explain where Palau is situated and why, in our view, this award is presented.

Palau islands is populated by nearly 1.5.000 people and located in the western end of the pacific. These islands are abundantly blessed by nature. The air is always fresh and the sea is always clear. The skies are always blue during the day and starry during the night. The lush of green is all over, still a paradise island as nature provided.

Historically, Palau was successively administered by Spain, Germany and Japan. Following the end of World War II under the United Nations trusteeship agreement, the United States was mandated to provide for the development of political, social and economic well-being of the people of Palau, and to rapidly return to Palau its rightful sovereignty over its own land.

In the early days, the ships that ushered in the forces of change also introduced amoeba and small-pox which greatly reduced the populations of the islands. More recently, the forces of World War II brought unimaginable human miseries. Destructions, death and displacement of our innocent people and starvation were everywhere. Traces of these are still visible today, and Palau has not fully recovered from the effects of conventional warfare.

Following the end of World War II the hope for the end of misery came “by the dawns early light” when the United States began its administration of the islands. But our hopes turned into disillusionment. Our traditions became impaired and new concepts and ways were imposed upon us. The strategic aspect of the United States’ military interests began to dominate our destiny. In the political status negotiations between Palau and the United States the U.S. disclosed plans for Palau, which included the use of nuclear and harmful substances. These plans became inseparable from the discussions relating to our long overdue decolonization.

The struggle

I would like to take this opportunity to comment on the sharp conflict, which now exists between Palau and the United States.

In 1980, Palau, at the urging of the United States, held a constitutional convention. The people of Palau drafted their first constitution of which we were very proud because this was our first step towards self-determination.

The United States congratulated us. However, the United States had one very big problem. Palau adopted a constitution containing a nuclear ban, which I will read to you now:

“Harmful substances such as nuclear chemical gas or biological weapons intended for use in warfare nuclear power plants and waste materials therefrom shall not be used, tested, stored or disposed of within the territorial jurisdiction of Palau without the expressed approval of not less than three-fourth (3/4) of the votes cast in a referendum on this specific question.”

Since the adoption of this nuclear ban, the United States has refused to envision a future political status in which the ban remains.

The constitution of the republic of Palau reflects the history of the conflict between the desire of the people of Palau to maintain their home nuclear free and the requirement of the U.S. military interest. The framers of our constitution were well aware of the sufferings of the past, the miseries of warfare around the world and the threat of a holocaust in modern warfare. It was essential that a nuclear ban was woven into the drafting of the Palau’s constitution in 1979, which was adopted by a majority of 92% vote in a referendum.

Ladies and gentlemen, the constitution of Palau must survive!

On February 10, 1983, in a plebiscite, the people of Palau rejected a proposed compact of free association with the United States, a compact that would have governed Palau for many years. This compact involved a new political status in which the United States would have removed Palau’s nuclear ban. Despite initial United States claim to the contrary, the compact of free association was declared dead by Palau’s supreme court because it conflicted with our constitution. The United States now agrees with that court ruling.

In October of this year, in an attempt to resume negotiations toward decolonization, the leadership of Palau, presented to the United States a new proposed compact of free association that is in conformity with our constitution and expresses the legitimate needs of Palau. In Washington D.C. last month, the representatives of the united states informed Palau’s leadership that in order for Palau and the United States to enter into any relationship of free association, Palau must lift its constitutional nuclear ban. This leaves my people with a very limited choice for their destiny – a continuation of colonialism under the United Nations trusteeship agreement or independence without adequate preparation and tools.

We regret the United States’ objection to our constitution and particularly our nuclear ban. We understand that the United States believes it conflicts with U.S. military plans. But we have made it clear to the United States that Palau is not willing to be subjected to testing and the use of nuclear substances therefore taking the risk of being completely destroyed like our neighbours at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. We will continue to believe that a nuclear-free Palau is consistent with the interest of the United States to promote world peace.


In the spirit of self-determination for the people of Palau, the United States has provided the opportunity to the people of Palau to create a form of government based on the principles of democracy, liberty and justice. Now the United States government refuses to recognize our desires under these very principles of democracy.

The overall picture for the people of Palau is not comfortable. We are caught in a situation where we are standing up to express the belief of a peaceful nuclear free nation, a nuclear free world and faced with a choice of independence without proper tools or continuation of the trusteeship where our sovereignty is virtually non-existent. At the same time the United States is using coercion and undue influence in the form of reduction of essential services contrary to its responsibilities under the U.N. trusteeship agreement to pressure Palau to change its constitution.

I ask everyone here today, who share the same dream of a nuclear-free world and a peaceful life for all humankind, to spread the word throughout the world, to all men, friend or foe that the people of Palau stand firm in enhancing this dream. Being a small nation, we ask for your blessings and support as we struggle to protect our constitution and in our growth towards self-determination.

What I have conveyed to you explains why I am here today. Once again, let me say it is a great honor to receive this Right Livelihood Award on behalf of my people. It is indeed a very significant event for us.

In closing, may I say that I have enjoyed very much the beauty of Sweden and the warm hospitality of its people.

Kom kmal mesaul – thank you.

High Chief Ibedul Gibbons
Belau Pacific Center
PO Box 1405
Coalition of Women’s Organisations to Keep Palau Nuclear-Free
PO Box 212