Developments at the UN - a new Impetus for Campaigning
The UN Secretary General has released a report on depleted uranium (DU), as requested in the resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in December 2007. Responses from 19 countries, as well three from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) were received. The General Assembly will vote on a new resolution in early December.
Most of the country responses supported DU being brought onto the UN agenda, with Argentina and Jamaica calling for a moratorium and Qatar going as far as calling for an outright ban. Cuba and Bolivia submitted very strong reports, echoing many of the points made by campaigners over the years.
The Serbian report drew on their experience of decontaminating an area where DU has been used, lending particular weight to their submission. Bosnia & Herzegovina submitted a split report where the Bosnian-Croat federation took a relatively cautious line, but the Serbian part of the country responded much more powerfully, citing rising rates of cancer in the Hadzici area – one of the known sites of DU contamination.
Other countries were less forthright and many, such as Germany and Italy, pointed out uncertainties over the effects of DU and called for more scientific research. However, only the reports of Canada and Spain made out that there was no problem with DU. The Spanish report illustrated the trend amongst NATO member states of being much more concerned about the health of their peacekeepers than about the risks to civilian populations from DU.
Following the report, the Non-Aligned Movement submitted another resolution on DU that will go before the First Committee in early November, and if passed, will go before the General Assembly in early December. The resolution is weaker than the original ICBUW draft, which called for a moratorium on DU use until the science was settled. However, inertia from NATO member states, coupled with growing unease among DU users and producers forced a weakening of the text.
The amended resolution calls for states to continue submitting reports to the Secretary General, and for the three UN agencies to update their positions on the subject. A welcome change is the specific mention of states who have been affected by DU, who are asked to facilitate research by the three UN agencies. The resolution envisages this process taking two years, with the General Assembly returning to the issue in 2010.
As the original responses from the deeply politicised WHO and IAEA were predictably supportive of the status quo, the call on UN agencies is a mixed blessing. The WHO is due to revise its stance this year anyway, but is unlikely to shift without lobbying from member states. More than anything, this resolution highlights the importance of strong domestic campaigning. The reports of Finland, Japan and Belgium all testified to the impact campaigners have made in those three countries.
CADU and ICBUW are calling for all DU activists to lobbying their Foreign Minister to marshall support for the resolution, and particularly for renewed efforts in EU countries, as its position as a voting bloc is likely to be decisive. Our support in the European Parliament shows that we can win the argument - what remains is to change the position of national governments. Read More.