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Made in France: Belgian and French campaigners challenge silence on French DU testing

On November 15th the Belgian Coalition Stop Uranium Weapons! – a group of 25 cooperative Belgian NGOs – organised a peaceful demonstration against the French government’s policy on depleted uranium weapons.
17 November 2010 - ICBUW

The action started in the morning at the back of the French Embassy in Brussels, where a delegation from the Coalition, together with Prof. Eva Brems Belgian MP (Flemish Green Party Groen!) and Joël Frison from NGO Mouvement de la Paix of Bourges, France – had been invited for a meeting with diplomats.

The action was intended to raise awareness of the French government’s responsibility over its DU weapons – in particular the risk of contamination from their production, testing and maintenance. The Coalition were particularly keen to draw the French government’s attention to EU and French legislation that prohibits the uncontrolled release of radioactive substances with an activity greater than 10Bq/gram. Uranium 238 – the chief constituent of depleted uranium - has an activity of 12,450Bq/gram meaning that its uncontrolled release in conflicts is in breach of standards that are applied in Europe for the protection of human health and the environment.

meeting in the French embassy

L-R: Joel Frison (Mouvement de la Paix France), Emmanuel Tuchscherer (Second Counsellor to the French Embassy in Brussels), Prof. Eva Brems MP, Ria Verjauw (Belgian Coalition and ICBUW) & Carla Goffi (Mouvement Chrétien pour la Paix)

The delegation met with French Second Counsellor to the Embassy, Emmanuel Tuchscherer. During the meeting Prof. Brems MP said “Belgium voted unanimously for a law that bans DU weapons, because these weapons are unacceptable. We would like to convince our neighbours (France) to do the same. France is getting more and more isolated on this issue. DU weapons are weapons of an indiscriminate nature whose use is in violation of International Humanitarian law.”

Joel Frison pointed out that the local population around le Polygone in Bourges – the French DU testing range - is concerned about the testing of the weapons and has called for an epidemiological study on the health effects of people living around the test site. In the past, test firings at Bourges (Cher) and Gramat (Lot) have contaminated earth, rubble, scrap metal and other debris with depleted uranium and local citizens fear that the test firing of uranium weapons is still continuing.

Coalition members asked Second Counsellor Tuchscherer why France had made a joint declaration on the recent UN First Committee resolution along with the US and UK and had not acted independently. He was unable to answer this question.

All agreed that a dialogue with the French government and military is important because until now all doors to discussion have remained closed. A debate on the issue could be a first step towards a more open and transparent policy.

The Belgian Coalition handed over a series of demands to Emmanuel Tuchscherer. These urged France to:

• comply with the repeated calls of the European Parliament that NATO and the European Union member states take action towards a global ban of depleted uranium weapons.

• adopt a more transparent position regarding the production, test-firing, international trade and the military use of French uranium weapons.

• vote in favour of the UN resolution that demands that DU users release information about where the weapons have been fired to governments of affected states.

in front of the superbox
Campaigners stand in front of artist Marlene Elgueta's scale model of the Superbox facility for testing DU weapons

Meanwhile, outside of the Embassy, the artwork Superbox was built by artist Marlene Elgueta and activists from Friends of the Earth Flanders and Brussels. This scale-model of a Superbox visualized the depleted uranium containment facility or Superbox in the Centre d'Études Atomiques de Gramat in Gramat (Lot), France, where uranium weapons tested.