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Is Belgium Close to a Ban on DU? Part 1 Feb 2006

There are some interesting and important developments taking place in Belgium, regarding parliamentary initiatives against DU weapons. Here is a short update on the current situation. Dutch or French speakers can find more information, and the complete text of the law proposals with the justification, on the websites: http://www.senaat.be and http://www.dekamer.be
29 September 2006 - Willen Van Den Panhuysen

On 3rd January 1933 a law was passed in Belgium, which banned the possession and trade in certain types of weapons. This law still exists, and when the Belgian parliament believes that a new type of weapon system should be banned, this is added to the list of weapons contained in the 1933 law. Currently, the law bans various weapons including anti-personnel mines, booby trap mines, daggers, and certain kinds of guns.

On 10th June 2005, before the International Coalition to Ban Uranium gathered together in the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgian Senators Sabine de Bethune and Erika Thijs - both CD&V, Dutch speaking Christian Democrats - drafted a bill (3-1261/1) that would amend the law of 1933 to include cluster munitions, anti-handling mechanisms and “projectiles that contain depleted uranium”.

Belgian anti-DU activist

Because the authors limit the definition of uranium weapons to “DU projectiles” only, the Belgian Coalition Stop Uranium Weapons submitted an amendment to all members of the Senate Commission on Foreign Affairs and National Defense. On the 24th October 2005 Senator Lionel Vandenberghe - SPIRIT, Dutch speaking progressive liberals – fully adopted this amendment (3-1261/2) and the justification made by the Coalition that aims to also include DU in armour, landmines and other weapons containing compounds of industrially manufactured uranium. These last cited documents should be discussed after a promised Hearing in the Belgian Senate

In the House of Representatives, on 28th October 2005 Joseph Arens – CDH, French speaking humanist democrats – introduced a law proposal (doc 53 2053/001) that seeks to ban cluster munitions and munitions that contain DU. In the Belgian Senate, proposals to amend the 1933 law are easily adopted. This is not the case in the Belgian House of Representatives because of less political support for a global ban on controversial weapons.
On 25th January 2006, Joseph Arens’ proposal was disconnected from that of Senator Philippe Mahoux, which covered a ban on cluster munitions. This move was made to ease the decision making process on cluster munitions. The bill was approved on Feb 1st.

Although we support the idea of organising a hearing in the Senate about uranium weapons, we feel that a law proposal that only includes uranium weapons might have more chance of success. Handicap International, an organisation campaigning for a ban on cluster munitions, agrees with this approach.

After sending out our Uraniumwapens dossier to each member of the House Commission on National Defense we were pleasantly surprised that, on 11th January 2006, another proposal was submitted to the House of Representatives by Dirk Van der Maelen – SP.A, Dutch speaking social democrats - which deals exclusively with the issue of uranium weapons. The SP.A is part of the federal government.

The term used in this bill is “Weapons and munitions that contain depleted uranium or other industrially manufactured uranium”. This is exactly the same definition as proposed by the Belgian Coalition Stop Uranium Weapons. It is also clear from the explanation of the law proposal that it is intended to cover other uses of DU such as tank armour, and not just DU ammunition.

The Belgian Coalition is currently seeking the support of NGOs and parliamentarians for Dirk Van der Maelen’s bill. It is not clear which way the parties will vote, although it is likely that the Dutch speaking progressive liberals (SPIRIT) social democrats (SP.A) and the French speaking democratic humanists (CDH) and social democrats (PS) will support the ban on uranium weapons. The PS may be divided on this issue as Defence Minister Flahaut (a member of this party) has stated that Belgium has no reason to ban these weapons, and some other members of the party may follow his lead. The Dutch and French speaking Green parties (Groen! and Ecolo) will also support the ban.

In the past, the Dutch speaking liberals have stated that a world without uranium weapons is a “praiseworthy goal”, although they have not committed to putting that into practice.