European Parliament urges EU governments to support UN depleted uranium resolution
This October, the UN General Assembly will consider its sixth biennial resolution on DU weapons since 2007. The resolutions have attracted widespread support over the years with fewer and fewer countries abstaining and just the US, UK, France and Israel consistently voting against them. They are non-binding but are helping to establish soft norms on the use and post-conflict management of DU weapons, highlighting issues such as transparency, assistance, precaution and the health risks they pose. They also serve as a regular reminder to DU users that the majority of the world views the weapons as unacceptable.
In spite of the majority support for the resolutions, Europe’s governments remain divided. As a result, EU member states now make up half of all countries still abstaining on the resolutions – 13 out of the 27 that abstained on the last resolution in 2014. And this for a resolution that highlighted the need for international assistance to be provided to states affected by DU contamination, which passed by 150 votes to four.
Unlike many EU member states, the European Parliament has long advocated for restrictions on the weapons and for measures to address their risks to civilians, military personnel and the environment. Parliamentary opposition dates back to the use of DU by the US in the Kosovo conflict and numerous resolutions have been passed since, most notably in 2008 when 94% of MEPs backed calls for a moratorium on their use.
Each year, the parliament makes recommendations to the Council of Europe’s Foreign Affairs Council – which is comprised of foreign ministers from all EU member states - on what its priorities are for the EU member states’ positions at the UN General Assembly. As it did in 2014, the parliament has once again urged member states to support the DU resolution, and to develop a common EU position that better reflects its repeated calls for a precautionary global moratorium. In doing so, MEPs highlight the developing global consensus on the potential civilian health risks and the complex and expensive burden of radioactive waste management that the use of DU places on states recovering from conflict.
This year, the parliament is also advocating for DU assessment and clearance projects to be included in the EU’s funding instruments for mine action, in line with 2014’s resolution, which encouraged states in a position to do so to provide assistance to states affected by the use of DU, particularly in identifying and managing contaminated sites and material. The inclusion of DU in the parliament’s report was supported by the Greens/EFA Group in the parliament and the report will be considered at a Council meeting on the 18th July.
EU abstainers in a dwindling minority globally
EU member state voting positions on the 2014 UN General Assembly resolution on DU: R=opposed, Y=abstain
The 13 EU states that abstained on the resolution in 2014 are Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain. The majority of the 13 have voted this way for many years but Germany is a new addition, having broken with its historical support to abstain two years ago. The move shocked many observers and angered German politicians and NGOs, particularly as the justification provided at the time was widely viewed as feeble. ICBUW was subsequently invited to give evidence at a parliamentary hearing in Berlin, where representatives from defence and foreign affairs were grilled by MPs over the decision. Both ministries gave a thoroughly unconvincing performance. Bulgaria and Sweden were two EU states that had formerly abstained but which voted in favour for the first time in 2014 and, as with Germany, both will be closely watched this year as a result.
As countries with stocks of DU, the UK and France will doubtless continue to vote against the resolution in October; although thanks to Brexit, France will soon be the only EU member state that retains DU in its arsenal. Ironically both France and the US appear to be actively seeking replacement materials for their tank ammunition, having acknowledged the political unacceptability of DU. Meanwhile those EU states abstaining will continue to find themselves among a dwindling minority of governments obstructing the resolutions, resolutely defending DU weapons even as their leading advocates quietly consign their use to history.