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143 states support call for depleted uranium clean-up assistance at United Nations

143 states have voted in favour of a fifth United Nations General Assembly First Committee resolution on DU weapons, which calls for states to provide assistance to countries affected by the weapons.
31 October 2014 - ICBUW

2014 First Committee results

The resolution, which built on previous texts with the addition of a call for ‘Member States in a position to do so to provide assistance to States affected by the use of arms and ammunition containing depleted uranium, in particular in identifying and managing contaminated sites and material’ was submitted by Indonesia on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. The resolution also recognised the need for more research on DU in conflict situations. The full results are available at the end of this article.

ICBUW broadly welcomed the outcome, in particular the decision by Sweden and Bulgaria to vote in favour for the first time. Swedish campaigners were pleased with the move, which is part of a new progressive stance on a number of issues following recent elections. However Sweden did submit an explanation of vote which indicated that they are still unsure of their new position.

However, ICBUW Germany reacted angrily as their government abstained on the resolution for the first time. “ICBUW Germany is shocked by the German abstention. Such behaviour is neither acceptable nor reasonable; it is in sharp contrast to previous voting positions as well as the general German policy in relation to weapons and disarmament issues, such as cluster munitions and landmines,” said Prof Manfred Mohr. “ICBUW Germany, together with other parts of civil and political society will do its utmost to shift the government's position back to ‘normal’.”

Predictably, the UK, US, France and Israel voted against the text. This week it emerged that the US will use DU again in Iraq in operations against ISIS ‘if it needs to.’ In spite of Iraq’s recent call for a global ban on the weapons and assistance clearing up the contamination left from conflicts in 1991 and 2003.

US, UK, France, Germany eov

In an explanation of vote, the UK, US and France, and separately Germany, quibbled over 'selective cherry picking' of a report by UNEP from 2010 in the preamble. Perversely they chose to cherry pick themselves, neglecting to include the final paragraph of the UNEP statement in their statements, which recommends: 'that action be taken to clean up and decontaminate the polluted sites. It also called for awareness-raising among local populations and future monitoring.' Naturally refusing to hand over targeting coordinates - as the US has done, makes these recommendations almost impossible to implement.  

“We have been pleased with the response from the majority of states on DU at this year’s First Committee, the response from civil society has also been very positive,” said ICBUW Coordinator Doug Weir. “However, the reasons given for abstaining have become increasingly feeble, and now seem to revolve around paradoxical arguments calling for more research while opposing a text that calls for exactly that. The people of Iraq and other affected states deserve far better.

ICBUW thanks the governments of Iraq, Austria, Ireland, Costa Rica, Cuba, Indonesia and Mexico for raising DU in their statements during the debate. ICBUW is also grateful to the Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN for sponsoring an extremely well attended ICBUW and PAX side event on the issue. The event heard presentations on the wealth of new scientific evidence linking DU and cancer and the complexity of effective DU management in Iraq. ICBUW-Japan’s Dr Katsumi Furitsu also offered a medical expert’s perspective on the unacceptability of dispersing radioactive materials into the environment and the need for precaution.

In a statement to the First Committee earlier this week, ICBUW said that the current lack of legal obligations for the post-conflict clearance of DU were 'astonishing', as was the apparent disinterest from the international community in assessing harm to civilians from the munitions. 

Research by PAX in Iraq during the last few years has documented the difficulties that the Iraqi government has faced in trying to deal with the legacy of DU contamination in the country. Workers in the scrap metal trade were found to be particularly at risk of exposure, as are communities living in close proximity to the sites. Above all this reinforces the need for full transparency from the US, so as to allow the clean-up recommended by the IAEA and UNEP to take place.

A second vote on the resolution will take place in the first week of December and we await the outcome with interest. The last resolution General Assembly, in 2012, passed by 155, with just four states opposed. Many more states vote at the General Assembly stage but positions rarely change.

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