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Is Belgium Close To A Ban On Uranium Weapons? Part II June 2006

In February it looked as if Belgium was close to reaching a ban on uranium weapons - the first country in the world to do so. What follows is the latest news on the situation, but first a little reminder of where the Belgian Coalition were up to.

29 September 2006 - By Willem Van den Panhuysen

On the 3rd of January 1933, a law was passed in Belgium which banned the possession and trade in certain types of weapons. 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. This law bans various weapons including anti-personnel mines and, since February 2006, also cluster munitions.

After Senator Lionel Vandenberghe had fully adopted an amendment (3-1261/2) from the Belgian Coalition Stop Uraniumwapens to a law proposal introduced by the Senators Sabine de Bethune and Erika Thijs (both CD&V: Dutch speaking Christian Democrats) Sabine de Bethune wrote a new law proposal (3-1593/1) on November 7th 2005. This law proposal, introduced on March 1st 2006, adopted an amendment by Senator Lionel Vandenberghe (SPRIRT: Dutch Speaking Progressive Liberals) which deals exclusively with uranium weapons.

In her justification, Sabine de Bethune says that her proposal is in line with previous political initiatives to ban anti-personnel mines and submunitions which cause superfluous injury to civil populations. “Indeed, in the long-term, weapons containing depleted uranium constitute a huge danger for civilians after the armed conflict has ended. Therefore, Belgium has to be at the forefront of the struggle against the use of weapons with depleted uranium, this by analogy with the worldwide ban on the use of anti-personnel mines.”

Senator de Bethune writes that NATO and the command of the Belgian Army has been covering up the health consequences of the use of uranium weapons. Knowing that 18 countries already possess these weapons, she writes that: "The proliferation has to be put a stop to...there is an urgent need to implement an international treaty". The term used in her new bill is 'Weapons and munitions that contain depleted uranium or other industrially manufactured uranium.' This is the definition proposed by the Belgian Coalition Stop Uraniumwapens. Erika Thijs and Lionel Vandenberghe co-signed her law proposal.

Contrary to the law proposal (51 2199/001) that was introduced by member of the Chamber Dirk Van der Maelen (SP.A, Dutch Speaking Social Democrats) de Bethune's proposal does not mention the dismantling of Belgian uranium weapon arsenals. The President of the House of Representatives Commission on National Defense Mr. Philippe Monfils (MR, French Speaking Liberal Democrats) has promised to have a debate on the issue of Van der Maelen's law proposal in the second half of June 2006.

On February 20th, 2006, Mr. Dirk Van der Maelen asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Karel De Gucht (VLD: Dutch-Speaking Liberal Democrats) whether aircraft containing uranium weapons have used Belgian airspace or landed at Belgian airports. Minister De Gucht answered (QRVA 51 120, doc 2005200607294, 3 May 2006) that: "An inquiry at the Belgian Ministry of Defense reveals that this department did not carry out the transport of weapons and munitions containing depleted uranium." Minister De Gucht writes: "In this context my services were informed that the Belgian Ministry of Defense has not stored munitions and weapons containing depleted uranium in its installations."

The Belgian Coalition has been invited by Mr Dirk Van der Maelen to have a talk about timing and strategy for the first discussion in the House Commission on National Defense. At the moment no Hearings or study days for Members of the Chamber are planned. But on Van der Maelen's request the President of the Commission promised to post the law proposal on the agenda in the second part of June. At the moment no amendments have been added in favour of the Ministry of Defense’s point of view that uranium weapons are safe.

We think most political factions in the House will support a ban, and it is likely that the law proposal will be approved by the House Commission on National Defense. The next step is to gain approval for the proposal at the Plenary session. If that is positive, there will be a law banning uranium weapons in Belgium.

During the Hearing about cluster munitions on December 19th 2005, Mr. Jean-Claude Lacroix, director of the Belgian Security and Defense Industry stated: "First, Belgian industry is not involved in the manufacture of munitions with depleted uranium. In this field the industry leaves the initiative to the parliament," (doc 51 1935/007, blz. 19). This means that a proposed ban will not be countered with economic arguments claiming that workers will lose jobs in the event of a ban. But to make sure that the French speaking parties will not object on the grounds that a ban would harm the Walloon economy, we have engaged an independent French speaking NGO to submit research making clear that no DU shells are produced in Belgium.