Campaign Against Depleted Uranium

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Ideas for your ‘Dear Jim’ Letters

Following on from the developments at the UN, we have decided that for our ‘day of action’ this year, we will designate the week of the 10th-14th November as a letter writing week. Those of you who wrote to the Ministry of Defence following the latest European Parliament Resolution on DU will have received a standard letter from Jim Plato at the Veterans Policy Unit. We have taken out some of the points made in this letter, and put together responses that point out the flaws in the government’s line.

If you have already struck up a correspondence with Mr Plato, you may wish to respond to him. Otherwise, we suggest you write a letter to David Milliband at the Foreign Office, with a copy sent to your local MP. An alternative approach to writing directly is to get your MP to write to the Foreign Office on your behalf, which they are obliged to do by law - if you believe they may be sympathetic this can be a good way to get them interested.

It pays to write as much as possible in your own words, and throw in some direct questions and points that need responding to. Our campaigning priorities are in the first instance to ask the UK government to support the resolution, and to challenge their ‘air of complacent certainty’ over the science.

“The use of DU munitions is legal under both UK and international law”

CADU’s response: Let’s forget UK law for the moment, as it doesn’t really apply. DU is not explicitly banned under international law, but neither are a lot of things which aren’t legal either. There is a strong case to be made that it is against the spirit of International Humanitarian Law (see the ICBUW briefing for an outline view). In a situation not covered by specific treaty agreements (such as the treaty against landmines), it is the job of a court to rule on whether it is legal or not. Until such time as there is a treaty, or a court ruling, the government’s opinion that they are legal, is just that – an opinion.

“None of the many organisations who have looked into the DU issue have found a link between DU weapons and health problems”

CADU’s response: Actually most of these organisations have come out saying that there needs to be more research and evidence before we can come to any conclusion. We leave it up to you to decide whether the government is lying or incompetent when they claim the science is settled. When questioned about the UN resolution in January, Meg Munn - Under-Secretary to the Foreign Office - mentioned a US National Academies of Science study due to come out later in the year. The NAS has published several reports on DU this year, but the one specifically discussing studies to look at the health of veterans said:

Although the committee’s overall conclusion is that the data are inadequate and insufficient to determine whether an association between exposure to uranium and a number of long-term health outcomes exists, it judged that several health outcomes should be given high priority for further study

In other words – we don’t know, but there are serious areas for concern. The point is that if the UK government wants to use DU weapons, it should be up to them to prove that they are safe for civilians & soldiers, not up to campaigners to prove that they are dangerous. As they haven’t, it cannot be morally or legally justifiable to continue using them. If you are interested in blinding your correspondent with science, a great place to start is Gretel Munroe’s excellent response to the NAS report on DU toxicology & health risks on the ICBUW website. There is a page on the three NAS reports on the CADU website with direct links to all three.

“The UK screening programme did not show up any UK veterans with traces of DU”

CADU’s Response: The programme placed adverts in the papers for ex-service personnel to respond if they thought they might have had contact with DU. While this is good news for those that responded, the results don’t tell us any more about the wider picture, only that the people who responded didn’t have any DU traces in their urine. It wasn’t a meaningful sample group for extrapolating any conclusions. A study using MOD records to find every person who showed some danger of exposure (nearly 50,000 people), or on all those reporting ill-effects which may be related to DU, might have got a bit closer.
In any case, it tells us nothing about the most pressing concern: the health of civilians in areas where DU has been used. Again it should not be the responsibility of campaigners to prove it is dangerous, but of the government to prove that DU it is safe.

“The recent interest in DU has been generated by inaccurate reports placed on the internet”

CADU’s Response: This really won’t wash. There is a lot of nonsense written about all kinds of subjects on the internet, and DU is no exception. However, concerns about DU are also regularly heard from highly reputable sources which can’t be brushed away so easily. Some examples:

  • Narmin Osman, Iraqi Environment Minister, has mentioned DU contaminated sites as a major concern on a number of occasions, and linked the contamination to a rise in cancer rates
  • The Italian Government agreed the first ever compensation package of €170 million in December 2007, following a rise in cancer rates in soldiers who served as peacekeepers in the Balkans, widely believed to be a result of exposure to DU
  • The European Parliament resolution in May of this year was passed with a vote of 94% MEPs in favour. It emphasised that while the science was not settled, there were serious grounds for concern. In 2007 the Belgian parliament voted unanimously to ban the use, sale, storage and transit of DU weapons.

Alternatively, quote from the country reports below. It is a sign of the weakness of the UK government’s position that their only response to the growing weight of international opinion is to bury their heads in the sand, and pretend that the fuss is merely the result of an internet conspiracy.

Happy Writing! - let us know how you get on.


Quotes from the Secretary-General’s Report

“Depleted uranium munitions produce toxic and radioactive dusts which are carcinogenic and lead to other-life threatening conditions in humans, are harmful to animals and have long-term adverse effects on the environment. Bangladesh, therefore, does not support the use of depleted uranium in armaments to achieve short-military advantage.”

“It is absolutely essential for the United Nations and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use their good offices to impose a moratorium on the use of depleted uranium weapons and to redouble their efforts to promote a worldwide ban on their use as well as systematically to halt production and procurement of this type of weaponry.”

“The Government of Jamaica is in full support of United Nations efforts to dissuade and curb the use of depleted uranium weapons systems, commonly known as radioactive “dirty bombs”, in accordance with human rights and international humanitarian law.”

“It is our belief that the precaution should be taken to ban further use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium as long as it is not known how they may affect the health of the population and the environment. Once that moratorium has been established, a group of governmental experts could be convened to consider the subject comprehensively.”

“The enrichment process produces an extraordinary volume of depleted uranium with a very low percentage of U-235 compared to U-238. Even so, when the ratios (between the two isotopes) are compared with that found in nature, where uranium is mixed with tens of hundreds of tons of extraneous material, it can be concluded that depleted uranium is very dangerous.”

“Serbia considers that the use of depleted uranium ammunition is a violation of the basic principles of international humanitarian law.”

“Finland greatly values international efforts to discuss the potential risks of the use of depleted uranium in armaments and ammunitions.”

“Japan pays special attention to the opinions and activities of the interested non-governmental organizations in this field. Japan intends to engage in dialogue, where appropriate, with civil society on this matter.”


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Page last updated: November 6, 2008