Brussels Conference Report: For A Ban On Uranium Weapons
The June conference was the first annual meeting of ICBUW. They called on EU states not only to implement their 2003 moratorium on the use of DU weapons, but also to seek a global ban on them.
It was sponsored by the Intergroup for Peace Initiatives of the European Parliament and attended by MEPs and NGO representatives from Japan, the US, Canada and many EU countries.
Several speakers discussed the health effects that follow the use of DU weapons. Dr Jawad Kadhim Hassan Al-Ali, Head of the Sadr Teaching Hospital in Basra, Iraq, gave compelling new evidence of the devastating increases in the incidence of cancers, other virulent diseases and birth malformations in areas where DU had been used. No full epidemiological survey has been done in Iraq yet, though all the evidence indicates a direct link with DU. Dr. Al-Ali issued a moving appeal for funding to enable him to conduct one.
The former Head of the Radiation Protection Division of the World Health Organisation, Dr. Keith Baverstock, discussed the way DU was able to cause genetic damage to the body. The damage was due not only to the radiation that DU particles emit when lodged in tissue but also to the chemically toxic nature of DU, with a potential for synergy between the two. A third route to health risk comes from the bystander effect, when cells contiguous to one hit by radiation behave as if they too had been irradiated.
He accused the International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP) and the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, of deliberately ignoring the scientifically proven health effects of DU and called on them to use the precautionary principle. He made an impassioned plea for truly independent scientific research, which had been sacrificed for political expediency.
Dr Toshi Inoshita from the Japan Medical Network, Gretel Munroe from Grassroots Actions for Peace and Dr Katsumi Furitsu of the Campaign Against Radiation Exposure gave reports into the evidence they had amassed on damage to both Iraqi civilians and US veterans exposed to DU dust. Their activities are not limited to research however, and the groups are variously active in campaigning on the issue, educating people about the dangers of DU, political lobbying and seeking to provide medical aid for Iraqis.
Avril McDonald from the Asser Institute gave an excellent paper on why, with the wealth of international humanitarian law (IHL) that would seem to make DU already illegal, we should be seeking a treaty to ban uranium weapons. The body of international humanitarian law is only relevant whilst conflict is on-going and therefore cannot be used in a pre- or post- conflict situation. There were existing laws that could provide some redress but their usefulness was often undermined by the clause of military necessity.
Some principles of IHL, such as the obligation to discriminate between civil and military targets, could never be justified by military necessity, but this principle concerns only the primary effects of a weapon whereas DU weapons are not designed to have chemical or radiological toxicity as their prime purpose.
There was a range of other excellent interventions. These included a report on the campaign to stop banks investing in DU arms manufacturers, a call to include the chemical toxicity of DU in our campaigning, a call to make links with low level radiation and nuclear power campaigners and calls to question our politicians on whether they have the right to contaminate a country forever.
At the ICBUW board meeting, two main priorities were agreed: the submission of the Draft treaty to the appropriate UN bodies and, later this year, the support for an epidemiological study in Iraq. The study is to be conducted by Dr Al-Ali, consultant at the Basra Teaching Hospital.
A complete report will soon be available on the ICBUW website. It was good to have the support of the European Parliament to air this issue and the welcome motivating contributions of several MEPs.
The organisers should be congratulated on the quality of all the interventions made: they provided both food for thought and inspiration for action.
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Page last updated: 6th December 2002