Campaign Against Depleted Uranium

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The Foreign Office Respond to Your Letters

Foreign Secretary David Miliband
Foreign Secretary David Miliband


Congratulations to all our supporters who wrote to their MP, or to the Foreign Minister before the latest DU resolution. The volume was so large that in late November ICBUW received an email from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) requesting that their standard response was posted on the ICBUW website to “give visitors the opportunity to understand the UK’s position on depleted uranium munitions.” We duly posted the letter, along with a point-by-point refutation of its argument. As this will be identical to what most of you received in answer to your letters, we have reproduced these points here, and urge you to write back. As ever, do involve your local MP in your correspondence.


‘No Significant Impact’

The UK’s position on the United Nations (UN) resolution on Depleted Uranium (DU) this year is the same as it was on last year’s resolution. The scientific literature contains a substantial number of reports which indicate that DU has not been shown to have, and indeed is very unlikely to have, any significant impact on the local population or on the veterans of conflicts in which these munitions are used. This includes work done by the United Nations Environment Programme and other independent expert groups. The key finding is that none of these studies have found widespread DU contamination sufficient to impact the health of the general population or deployed military personnel. The UK Government therefore opposed the resolution when the vote took place on 31 October.

This is attempting to fudge the issue. The question isn’t whether there have been lots of reports, the question is whether they have been able to reach reliable conclusions about whether DU is safe enough to be used in warfare. They haven’t, and their conclusions make this quite clear. It is inconceivable that the FCO are not aware of this, so their stance is completely disingenuous. UNEP reports recommend decontamination of contaminated areas precisely because of these uncertainties.

‘Only limited Concern’

Last year’s resolution tasked the UN Secretary-General with submitting a report to this year’s session of the General Assembly. The UN Report, “Effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing Depleted Uranium” of 24 July suggests there is only limited concern about DU among the international community. This is confirmed in the contributions from the governments of Canada, Finland, Germany and Spain and in contributions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organisation that conclude that there is no definitive evidence that DU munitions have had a significant impact on the local population or veterans of conflicts in which these munitions have been used.

As Finland and Germany voted for the resolution, they are an odd choice to cite as supporting the UK position. Indeed, according to their report Finland “greatly values international efforts to discuss the potential risks of the use of depleted uranium in armaments and ammunitions”. As the resolution calls for nothing more than the updating of these same UN agencies positions, with a focus on affected countries – there being “no definitive evidence” of harm is hardly a reason to oppose it. The UK voted against scientific enquiry and the furthering of knowledge, and can only have done so because it was afraid of what might be discovered.

Science ‘Adequate’

The adequacy and validity of the scientific work already carried out is demonstrated by the findings of the biological and health monitoring of UK and other veterans of conflicts in which DU munitions have been used. With the exception of a very small number of personnel in or on vehicles at the time they were attacked by DU munitions, none of the almost 1000 UK personnel monitored has been found to have any DU in their urine. Neither has any evidence of ill-health due to DU exposure been found in the 3,400 Gulf veterans who have attended the Ministry of Defence’s Medical Assessment Programme. Similar findings have been reported by other countries which have carried out this type of monitoring.

This is written with the assumption that the reader is unfamiliar with the body of scientific knowledge. The monitoring was undertaken on the basis of self-referral, which we mentioned at length in CADU News 29. The idea that this can validate any statement about the safety of DU is nonsense: it just means that there was no DU in the urine of the men tested. To pretend that this can somehow render a body of work which is quite clear about its limitations ‘adequate’ would be a joke if it wasn’t so serious. There is little point in squabbling over the testing of a small proportion of self-referring veterans (in total around 43,000 UK troops participated in the Gulf War). We need to address the much larger question of the health of civilians in DU-affected countries, which requires in-country research of exactly the type the UK has voted against. As for ‘other countries’, you may wish to refer to the Gulf War illness report and the US research of this type.

‘A Legitimate Weapon’

We believe that DU is a legitimate weapon and the use of it is not prohibited under any international agreements, including the Geneva Conventions. UK armed forces only use DU munitions in strict accordance with International Humanitarian Law.

Again, we have covered the question of legality at length in CADU News 29. It’s good to see this legal opinion being referred to as a belief rather than gospel truth. CADU believes that DU breaches a number of principles of International Humanitarian Law, and will be enquiring what is meant by only using it in accordance with IHL

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Page last updated: 12 February, 2009