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Iraq calls for global treaty ban on depleted uranium weapons

For the first time in more than a decade, Iraq has publicly called for an international ban on DU weapons, in a report submitted to the UN Secretary General ahead of this year’s UN General Assembly.
7 August 2014 - ICBUW

In its report, Iraq: “expresses its deep concern over the harmful effects of the use in wars and armed struggles of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium, which constitute a danger to human beings and the environment (the air and the soil).” Globally, Iraq is the country most affected by wartime DU contamination, with more than 400,000kg used in 1991 and 2003’s conflicts. Dealing with DU contamination is a goal of its current national environmental strategy.

Iraq continued by urging: “the United Nations, the specialised agencies (IAEA, WHO and UNEP), all States Members of the United Nations and non-governmental organisations to adopt a proactive approach towards the danger of the use of depleted uranium in armaments and ammunitions and to condemn such use.”

Before concluding by stating that: “efforts should be made to draft a binding and verifiable international treaty prohibiting the use, possession, transfer and trafficking of such armaments and ammunitions.”   

The children's graveyard in Basra, Iraq, 2003.

The children's graveyard in Basra, Iraq, 2003. Naomi Toyoda.

The report is hugely significant as Iraq’s reluctance to speak out on the issue since 2003 had puzzled many and allowed users to dismiss concerns over the use and legacy of the weapons in the country. Research undertaken by PAX, a Dutch peace organisation and ICBUW member, during the last few years has highlighted a number of ongoing concerns, most recently the lack of effective radioactive waste management for the tonnes of contaminated military scrap still present from both conflicts.

This October, the UN General Assembly will consider a 5th biennial resolution on DU weapons; the last resolution, in 2012, passed by 155 states to four and called for a precautionary approach to the use and post-conflict management of the weapons. It is hoped that this year’s resolution will contain even stronger language and ICBUW will be urging states to support the new text. Iraq’s intervention may well prove to be of great significance.

The report to the Secretary General (available below) was called for by the resolution passed in 2012, and in each preceding text. This year 12 states submitted their views, together with UNEP and the IAEA. In addition to Iraq, language supporting either a moratorium or ban was submitted by Argentina, Bolivia, Libya, Oman and Panama. Cuba highlighted the serious global concern about the weapons while Ecuador welcomed the application of the Precautionary Principle in a disarmament context.

The Netherland’s report accepted that DU is a matter of concern but once again quibbled over the distinction between possible and potential health effects, something it has been doing since 2007. Spain’s submission was largely dismissive of the risks and was a recycled version of previous submissions. Mexico’s report related entirely to uranium use in civil nuclear applications, as did Ukraine’s.      

UNEP, ever sensitive to the highly politicised debate over DU once again referred to work being undertaken by its subsidiary UNSCEAR on the biological effects of internal alpha radiation emitters, a report that has been met with repeated delays.

The IAEA discussed the radiological risks from DU, again claiming that the sites they had assessed had found them to be minimal. They once again reiterated that: “for the situations where fragments or complete depleted-uranium ammunitions were found, there is a potential risk of radiation effects to individuals who get in direct contact with such fragments or ammunitions. This risk can be mitigated with simple countermeasures conducted by national authorities as collection, storage and disposal of such fragments.”

The claim that simple countermeasures are sufficient contrasts enormously to data from ICBUW and PAX’s field research in the Balkans and Iraq, which found that managing contaminated scrap and materials is technically challenging in post-conflict settings and extremely expensive. It was notable that Iraq’s report argued that: “technical assistance should be provided to the affected States and communities, and suitable medical care should be provided to regions and inhabitants that have been exposed to radiation from such armaments.

Voting on this year’s UN resolution will take place at the start of November. The month leading up to the vote provides an excellent vehicle for national advocacy on DU. To find out how you can help or for information on events in your country, please contact ICBUW on info@icbuw.org      

Attachments

  • 2014 UNSC report: Effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing DU

    219 Kb - Format pdf
    UNSG
    Report of the Secretary-General 2014 Summary The present report contains views of Member States and relevant international organizations on the effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium. The Secretary-General has, to date, received replies from 12 Governments and responses from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme.