International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons

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Press releases

  • Release date: 02/04/2009

    NATO prepared to take a fresh look at depleted uranium weapons

    NATO will follow the World Health Organisation’s lead on health risks but claims no responsibility for choice of weapons deployed by its members.

    In a meeting with campaigners, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Security Cooperation and Partnership said that the organisation is prepared to take a fresh look at the health and environmental impact of uranium weapons.

    Speaking to representatives of the European Parliament, European Association of Military Associations (EUROMIL), Italian Anti-War Scientists Committee and the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW),1 Robert F Simmons said that NATO would update its position on uranium weapons in light of the position taken by the United Nation General Assembly when it again considers the issue in 2010.2 The Head of NATO's Arms Control and Coordination Section (ACCS) Michael D. Miggins, was also present at the meeting.

    He accepted that NATO does not have the capacity to undertake a detailed investigation into the effects of uranium weapons itself, although it does have access to government appointed scientists. The scientists will be asked to look into the issue following the publication of fresh data from the UN’s agencies.

    As with many of its member states, NATO appears content to follow the advice of the World Health Organisation when considering uranium’s risks. This is in spite of the detailed criticism levelled at the agency by experts and NGOs following its last report on the issue in 2003, a report that excluded key peer-reviewed data suggesting that depleted uranium is carcinogenic.3 Since 2003, many more peer-reviewed papers have been published linking uranium exposure and ill health. The decision by NATO further increases the pressure on the WHO to give a more scientifically honest appraisal of the potential long-term impact of the weapons when it next reports on the issue.

    “ICBUW welcomes NATO’s decision to look again at this issue but once again it seems as if all roads lead to the WHO,” said an ICBUW spokesperson. “Pressure is growing on the international community to take steps to ban the use of uranium weapons and that pressure is most focused on the UN agencies that will report on the issue in 2010. The position of the WHO in particular is becoming increasingly untenable, as the peer reviewed data linking uranium to a range of health problems stacks up. We would urge states worldwide to implement a voluntary moratorium on these weapons as the first step towards a comprehensive global ban; and remind EU member states that its own parliament has made repeated calls for just such a step.”

    Simmons went on to explain that NATO has no control over the choice of weapons employed in conflicts by its members. He admitted that ‘operational plans’ for the protection of its members’ troops from contamination are in place but could not give EUROMIL a detailed answer about who was responsible for protecting troops. When asked whether NATO would support the use of uranium weapons in a new conflict he said that it would depend on the country being attacked, their capabilities and military utility, when pressed he said it was a hypothetical question and refused to answer in more detail.

    The two NATO representatives defended the organisation’s position by explaining that NATO operates a trust fund for the clearance and destruction of explosive remnants of war.

    Ends

    Notes

    1. Els de Groen MEP (Greens/MFA), Emmanuel Jacob (President, EUROMIL), Prof. Massimo Zucchetti (Italian Anti-War Scientists Committee), Ria Verjauw (ICBUW).

    2. 141 states support second uranium weapons resolution in UN General Assembly vote
    http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/a/237.html

    3. BBC: Senior scientist with the United Nations has told the BBC that studies showing that it was carcinogenic were suppressed from a seminal World Health Organisation report.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today/reports/international/uranium_20061101.shtml

  • Release date: 02/12/2008

    141 states support second uranium weapons resolution in UN General Assembly vote

    The United Nations General Assembly has passed, by a huge majority, a resolution requesting its agencies to update their positions on the health and environmental effects of uranium weapons.

    Summary
    • Overwhelming majority of states support further action on uranium weapons
    • EU and NATO members split on the issue
    • US, UK, Israel and France isolated
    • UN Agencies forced to update their positions on uranium weapons by 2010
    • 141 states vote in favour, 34 abstain, four vote against.

    The resolution, which passed the First Committee stage on October 31st by 127 states to four, calls on three UN agencies - the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to update their positions on uranium weapons. 1 The overwhelming support for the text reflects increasing international concern over the long-term impact of uranium contamination in post-conflict environments and military ranges.

    In the 17 years since uranium weapons were first used on a large scale in the 1991 Gulf War, a huge volume of peer-reviewed research has highlighted previously unknown pathways through which exposure to uranium’s heavy metal toxicity and radioactivity may damage human health. Throughout the world, parliamentarians have responded by supporting calls for a moratorium and ban, urging governments and the military to take a precautionary approach.2, 3 However the WHO and IAEA have been slow to react to this wealth of new evidence and it is hoped that this resolution will go some way to resolving this situation.4

    In a welcome move, the text requests that all three UN agencies work closely with countries affected by the use of uranium weapons in compiling their research. Until now, most research by UN member states has focused on exposure in veterans and not on the civilian populations living in contaminated areas. Furthermore, recent investigations into US veteran studies have found them to be wholly incapable of producing useful data.5

    The text also repeats the request for states to submit reports and opinions on uranium weapons to the UN Secretary General in the process that was started by last year’s resolution. Thus far, 19 states have submitted reports to the Secretary General; many of them call for action on uranium weapons and back a precautionary approach.6 The resolution ends by placing the issue on the agenda of the General Assembly’s 65th Session; this will begin in September 2010.

    The First Committee vote saw significant voting changes in comparison to the previous year’s resolution, with key EU and NATO members such as the Netherlands, Finland, Norway and Iceland changing position to support calls for further action on the issue.7 These changes were echoed at the General Assembly vote. Once again Japan, which has been under considerable pressure from campaigners, supported the resolution.

    Of the permanent five Security Council members, the US, UK and France voted against. They were joined by Israel. Russia abstained and China refused to vote.

    “While we are relieved that the international community is finally beginning to accept the seriousness of this problem, ICBUW continues to be disappointed by the response from some European governments to this issue, particularly given the strength of feeling in the European Parliament,” said an ICBUW spokesperson. “However, what is now clear is that the WHO, IAEA and to a lesser extent UNEP must now give serious consideration to the wealth of new scientific data on uranium’s chemical toxicity and radioactivity. Furthermore, this resolution underlines the fact that it is unacceptable for states to continue to use incomplete, outdated or flawed studies to justify the continued use of uranium munitions. A precautionary approach is the only scientifically defensible course of action when dealing with these inhumane and indiscriminate weapons.”

    The list of states abstaining from the vote, while shorter than in 2007, still contains Belgium, the only state to have implemented a domestic ban on uranium weapons, a fact that continues to anger Belgian campaigners. It is suspected that the Belgian government is wary of becoming isolated on the issue internationally. Two Nordic states, Denmark and Sweden continue to blow cold, elsewhere in Europe Poland, the Czech Republic , Portugal and Spain are also dragging their feet, in spite of a call for a moratorium and ban by 94% of MEPs earlier this year. Many of the abstainers are recent EU/NATO accession states or ex-Soviet republics such as Kazakhstan.

    Australia and Canada, both of whom have extensive uranium mining interests and close ties to US foreign policy also abstained.

    The resolution was submitted by Cuba and Indonesia on behalf of the League of Non-Aligned States.

    1. Effects of arms and ammunitions containing depleted uranium, A.C.1/63/L.26. http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/docs/77.pdf
    2. European Parliament passes far reaching DU resolution in landslide vote
    http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/a/181.html
    3. Belgium bans uranium weapons and armour
    http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/a/118.html
    4. WHO DU position criticised, BBC Today Programme, Nov 2006
    http://tinyurl.com/2do8yw
    5. US Institute of Medicine study finds US veteran epidemiology study design wanting
    http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/docs/59.pdf
    6. UN Secretary General publishes report on uranium weapons
    http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/a/188.html
    7. United Nations First Committee overwhelmingly backs new uranium weapons resolution
    http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/a/204.html

    Ends

  • Release date: 06/11/2007

    Campaign launched against RBS and Barclays’ investments in uranium weapon manufacturers

    On November 6th ICBUW member organisations will launch a global disinvestment campaign against investments by high street banks and investment funds in the manufacturers of uranium weapons.1

    In collaboration with Network Flanders and Banktrack, ICBUW will launch 'Too Risky for Business' - a dossier detailing how high street banks are supporting companies that manufacture indiscriminate and illegal weapon systems.2

    The launch follows the November 1st landslide vote at the UN First Committee in support of a resolution recognising health concerns over the use of depleted uranium weapons.3 The vote was passed by 122 to six and left the US, UK, France and Israel isolated from global opinion.

    Too Risky for Business shows that Barclays has significant shareholdings in both Alliant Tech Systems (ATK) and Gencorp. ATK is the largest ammunition manufacturer in the US and in addition to uranium weapons it also produces land mines, cluster bombs and parts for Trident nuclear missiles. Gencorp’s wholly owned subsidiary Aerojet Ordnance Tennessee Inc. also produce uranium weapons and again have interests in rocket propulsion, warheads and tactical weapon systems. This year Barclays owned shares amounting to 3.1% of ATK and 4.8% of Gencorp.

    The Royal Bank of Scotland has repeatedly formed part of an international banking syndicate that has provided revolving credit facilities and loans to ATK worth in excess of $500m. In 2004 and 2005 it again formed a syndicate to provide revolving credit facilities to General Dynamics, in each case the facility was valued at $1bn. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems manufactures a range of uranium weaponry for the US military. Many of its uranium products have been sold to contentious regimes such as Pakistan, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

    “There is increasing momentum for a global ban on the use of uranium in conventional weapon systems,” said an ICBUW spokesperson.“All the scientific research of the last few years suggests that uranium dust is far more hazardous to human health than previously thought. This concern is reflected in the First Committee’s resolution last week, a resolution that left the UK isolated. Barclays and RBS seem almost as out of touch as the UK Government is, be they customers or subjects, people want nothing to do with these indiscriminate and inhumane weapons.”

    Actions against the banks named in the report will take place across the world and will continue until they disinvest. The Royal Bank of Scotland has already come under pressure in the UK this year for its stance on climate change and the oil industry.

    The launch comes after a year of intense campaigning by ICBUW and its member organisations, and follows calls by the European Parliament for a ban on uranium in conventional weapon systems.4 In March this year, Belgium became the first country in the world to introduce a domestic ban on the use of uranium in all conventional weapon systems.5 The decision by Brussels to take this step sent a clear message to all users of uranium weapons that the continued use of chemically toxic and radioactive weapon systems is incompatible with international humanitarian legal standards.

    Notes

    1. November 6th is the United Nations Day for the Prevention of the Exploitation of the Environment Through War and Armed Conflict.
    2. ICBUW to launch global disinvestments campaign: http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/a/143.html
    3. The resolution entitled 'Effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium' (A/C.1/62/L.18/Rev.1) was passed by 122 votes to six (US, UK, France, Israel, Czech, Netherlands: http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/a/144.html) at the UN First Committee in New York, with 35 abstentions. The resolution urges UN member states to re-examine the health hazards posed by the use of uranium weapons. Full text (select your language of choice): http://www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=A/C.1/62/L.18/rev.1
    4. European Parliament Makes Fourth Call for DU Ban: http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/a/89.html
    5. Belgium bans depleted uranium weapons and armour: http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/a/118.html

    Ends