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Geneva: depleted uranium on agenda as unfinished disarmament business is discussed

ICBUW present on why DU needs to be resolved and possible approaches at a side event during the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
9 April 2014 - ICBUW

On April 4th, ICBUW Coordinator Doug Weir took part in a side event that aimed to draw attention to disarmament issues that have hitherto been failed to be tackled by the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

While the CCW has developed protocols on mines and booby traps, weapons that result in undetectable fragments, blinding laser weapons and explosive remnants of war it is no stranger to controversy. Most notorious of all was its dramatic failure to prohibit cluster munitions. Yet for all the criticism of its consensus decision making system, which tends to result in a race to achieve the lowest common standards, it remains a useful forum for raising issues and where access for civil society is generally good.  

Left somewhat punchdrunk by the cluster munition debacle, the CCW has recently been re-energised by the prospect of discussing controls on lethal autonomous weapons, aka killer robots. Meanwhile, there remain a range of disarmament issues that still require satisfactory resolution, among these are incendiary weapons, where Human Rights Watch in particular have been vocal in pointing out the significant flaws in the current protocol: weaknesses that have been highlighted by the use of white phosphorous in Gaza and Fallujah.

ICBUW was invited to take part in an event titled CCW Unfinished Business, which was organised by the CCW Implementation Support Unit and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD). April 4th is the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.

Although incendiary weapons were conspicuously absent from the agenda, besides DU, other topics featured included mines other than anti-personnel mines (MOTAPM) i.e. anti-vehicle mines, environmental concerns in mine action and the functioning of Article 36 to Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions.     

Doug Weir speaking on DU at the "CCW Unfinished Business" event.

Doug provided a brief overview of DU (presentation below) and then discussed some of the key problematic issues relating to its use. These include the lack of transparency over firing coordinates, the technical difficulties in managing DU contamination, new data on the carcinogenicity of DU and its use against non-armoured targets and in populated areas. After demonstrating how national bans, regional parliamentary resolutions, state practice and the enormously well supported UN General Assembly resolutions are establishing a new norm stigmatising DU, Doug considered how the CCW should deal with the problem.

Options included a new protocol banning DU, creating obligations for clearance and for assisting affected communities or, whether the international community should perhaps view DU as a symptom of a more profound problem. This approach would require greater scrutiny of the toxicity and environmental persistence of substances used in conventional weapons, limitations on attacks that can create conflict pollutants or toxic remnants of war and more far-reaching obligations for post-conflict environmental assessment, remediation and monitoring.   

Enthused by the prospect of debating killer robots it seems unlikely that the CCW will lurch into action over DU or TRW. This may not be an entirely bad thing because the emerging discourse on the civilian and environmental impact of conflict pollutants will perhaps require perspectives on human rights and the environment that are not sufficiently well represented in the CCW at present. So, while the CCW is a useful forum for presenting these concerns, it may not be the forum that ultimately deals with them.   

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  • How do you tackle a problem like depleted uranium

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    ICBUW
    Presentation on depleted uranium from the event "CCW Unfinished Business", which was organised by the CCW Implementation Support Unit and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD).