Campaign Against Depleted Uranium

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ICBUW Lobbying in Geneva

On Tuesday 6th March, ICBUW members delivered a lunchtime seminar on uranium weapons at the United Nations in Geneva. The seminar was the first step towards building a wider recognition and understanding of the problem amongst UN disarmament specialists.
ICBUW is indebted to the support and assistance of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and other members of the NGO Committee on Disarmament for the success of the event.

The event attracted diplomatic staff from more than 10 countries including New Zealand, Mexico, Norway and Bulgaria. They were joined by representatives from many of Geneva’s NGOs including the Red Cross and the Quakers.

CADU Coordinator and member of the ICBUW Steering Group Rae Street, was the first to speak, introducing the Coalition and describing our history, structure and goals.

She was followed by Dr Katsumi Furitsu from the Campaign Against Radiation Exposure. Dr Furitsu has spent many years working with Japanese bomb survivors and detailed the scientific and medical justification for a ban on the use of uranium weapons.

Beginning with the basics, she went on to cover the biokinetics of uranium oxides inside the body and the routes by which civilians and service personnel can be contaminated. From there, Dr Furitsu described the effects of alpha particles on a cellular level, covering new research into Genomic Instability and the Bystander Effect. Using data from McCain and Miller’s studies into the health effects of DU, she described how human cells exposed to DU can turn malignant and form tumours when implanted into mice. From radioactive hazards she then examined the chemical toxicity of DU, using Diane Sterns’ 2005 paper on DNA damage caused by uranyl acetate.

Research into chromosome damage, micro particles and Gulf War Veteran morbidity was also covered. Dr Furitsu finished with a call for the Precautionary Principle to be respected and for urgent medical assistance to be offered to Iraq, where doctors and patients are still without even basic medical supplies four years after the invasion.

Red Cross advisor and IHL specialist Prof Manfred Mohr then introduced delegates to the legal status of uranium weapons. He described how they breach Environmental, Humanitarian and Human Rights Law and went on to discuss some of the possible routes towards a complete ban. Options to be considered included the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) and the Protocol V on Incendiary Weapons. However there are problems with both these approaches. The wording of Protocol V is very precise and uranium weapons do not have a primary incendiary effect; meanwhile the CCW has few members from the majority world and any member - such as the US - can veto a decision.

As the Cluster Munition Coalition has so recently shown, an independent treaty is the best way forward and the best way to highlight the existing illegality of uranium weapons.
The next speaker, Emmanual Jacob, was particularly welcome. As President of EUROMIL - an umbrella group of military unions and bodies - he represents the opinion of more than 28 unions from Europe and beyond. Since 2005 they have been strongly against the use of uranium weapon systems both out of concern for their own members and for civilian populations. His presence reflected the importance of strong ties with the military on this issue.

Following the seminar, we organised several face to face meetings with diplomats and NGOs. The Irish delegation expressed interest in our campaign and requested further information on it. The Irish Foreign Minister has been very strong on challenging the radioactive emissions from the UK’s Sellafield nuclear site.

Following their vote for a ban, it was only right that we met with the Belgian delegation. Mr Alain Vangucht, First Secretary on Disarmament complimented ICBUW on the quality of the seminar and said that : “It would be logical for Belgium to take action in New York,” referring to our plans to introduce a resolution into the UN First Assembly this October. However he conceded that he would need instruction from Brussels to do this and that the domestic political will had to be there. He promised to forward our information to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and highlighted the important role that Civil Society has in educating politicians on issues such as ours.

To tie in with a visit to Costa Rica by ICBUW representatives, we visited their delegation. The minister was very sympathetic and was keen for us to provide him with more information. He promised to compile a report and forward it to San Jose and suggested that we speak with other South American missions as many are active in disarmament issues.

The following morning we met with the New Zealand Ambassador for Disarmament and his Second Secretary. They were perhaps the best informed of all the missions, thanks to a strong domestic anti-DU movement. They revealed that parliamentary questions had been asked in the country and that there were concerns over compensation for veterans. Illustrating our concerns about the CCW they recalled the one and only time that uranium weapons had been mentioned during the talks. It had been during a discussion of ‘foreseability’ - that being the use of weapons that may have long and short term effects, such as Agent Orange. The US apparently grew very uncomfortable when DU was mentioned.

We then began a tour of South America, by way of Argentina, Peru and Chile. Again we received sympathetic hearings at all these meetings but they also illustrated how much educational groundwork we as a movement need to do, most had heard of uranium weapons but all were lacking a complete picture of their effects and the science behind them.

What also became apparent is the amount of work being put into the Oslo Process for a ban on cluster munitions. Many countries with strong records on disarmament issues, such as Norway, Ireland, New Zealand and Peru are all heavily involved in the treaty process and are expending political capital through inter-governmental lobbying. The result of this may be that uranium weapons will have to wait until at least late 2008 - when the CMC hope to have a cluster treaty completed and on the table - to be taken up by national governments.

However, there are also positive aspects to this, the Oslo Process is reminding states that disarmament treaties can exist and be propagated outside the auspices of the CCW. It is a long time since the landmines treaty and governments are again waking up to the input that NGOs can have on decision making and policy.

The main challenge will be to find a lead country to back our process 100%. At all the lobby meetings we had, one of the first questions asked was ‘who else is supporting this?’
We will of course return to Geneva for more talks and will continue to develop new contacts with states. We are at the beginning of what will be a long road but decisions by the European Parliament and Belgium are signs that a shift is beginning to take place.

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Page last updated: 6th December 2002