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UN First Committee sends clear message to depleted uranium users over transparency

The United Nations First Committee has voted, by an overwhelming margin, for state users of depleted uranium weapons to release data on where the weapons have been used to governments of states affected by their use.
29 October 2010 - ICBUW

136 states last night voted in favour of a resolution calling on state users of depleted uranium weapons to release quantitative and geographical data to the governments of affected states. The resolution will now go forward to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) for a second vote at the end of November.

Although UNGA resolutions are non-binding, they are a useful means of focusing attention on key issues. In this case the ongoing failure of the US to release data on its use of depleted uranium in Iraq and concerns over the use of the weapons in other conflicts, such as the interventions in Somalia in the mid-1990s. The resolution was submitted by Indonesia on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.

1comm vote map DU res

The resolution was opposed by only four states - the US, UK, France and Israel. These four also voted against previous resolutions accepting that DU has the potential to damage human health (2007) and calling for more research in affected states (2008).

The number of abstentions was down from previous years, with Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Greece, Luxembourg and Slovenia shifting position to vote in favour. It is notable that Bosnia had to wait six years for NATO to reveal that DU had been used there and even now there are contaminated sites in the vicinity of Sarajevo for which NATO has still failed to release data.

As with previous years, NATO was split on the issue with Belgium, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovenia and the Netherlands voting in favour, while Albania, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey abstained.

Meanwhile Austria, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Switzerland all voted in favour while Sweden and Ukraine abstained.

In the Asia-Pacific region, ICBUW welcomed the ongoing support of Japan and New Zealand but was disappointed to see repeated abstentions from Australia and the Republic of Korea.

Elsewhere the abstentions from Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Russia, continued and ICBUW was disappointed that Albania, Macedonia and Croatia remained the only Balkan states not to support the draft.

"Overall we are pleased with the outcome of this vote," said an ICBUW spokesperson. "The text draws attention to a crucial issue that governs the humanitarian and environmental impact of uranium weapons - transparency. Nevertheless it is disappointing that many EU and NATO members who promote transparency in other areas of arms control are continuing to abstain. Similarly the US, France and UK's ongoing refusal to play a constructive role in these votes is depressing. The UK's position in particular is looking increasingly hypocritical, given that the text asks for less than they have already undertaken of their own volition in Iraq."

Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands all voted in favour with an explanation of vote (see PDFs at the end of article). Belgium again described its domestic ban and offered to help advise any states wishing to ban the weapons. Germany merely stated that they may have voted in favour of transparency but didn't want it to be interpreted as a precedent for other types of munitions. The Netherlands once again expressed discomfort with the use of the phrase potential health effects, proposing instead that it should be possible health effects.

The US, UK and France went into more detail, challenging whether there are likely to be any health risks from DU whatsoever. They went on to argue that international law does not require them to share data on where munitions have been used, therefore the resolution was irrelevant. Furthermore - they believe it is their choice to decide whether or not this type of information is shared.

ICBUW would argue that, as with land mines and cluster munitions, if you choose to use uranium weapons you DO have a responsibility to share data on their use with affected states to help alleviate their post-conflict impact. Given that there are at least 400,000kg of DU still unaccounted for in Iraq, we would suggest that this resolution text is far from irrelevant.

If your government has failed to vote in the way you would like, there is still time to lobby them before the General Assembly vote - although a shift in position is rare, it is not unprecedented. For advice on lobbying your government, contact ICBUW.