As the state most affected by the wartime use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons, Iraq’s intervention in the conventional debate this week was particularly welcome.
Reflecting sentiments already expressed in its report to the UN Secretary General
on the topic, Iraq stated that it is: “...highly concerned about using weapons and ammunition in wars and armed conflicts that contain DU, and also concerned about its negative effects on human beings and environment.”
Also reflecting that Iraq’s DU contamination is far from resolved, Iraq urged: “...member states and relevant international organisations, especially the IAEA, WHO, UNEP, and research centres and academic studies to carry out in-depth studies about the environmental and health effects of DU and the ways to address these effects.”
Mexico echoed this, encouraging “...the WHO, UNEP, IAEA, and any other body able to do so, to perform studies into exposure from the use of such weapons and ammunition.”
While not singling out particular actors to undertake further studies, Austria felt that as “...scientific evaluation of these effects seems not to be final at this stage, Austria is in favour of continuing research in this area.”
Ireland too recognised: “...the need for further research to assess the health risks and environmental impact of the use of arms and ammunitions containing DU in conflict situations.”
Ireland welcomed the inclusion of language
on research in conflict settings in this year’s resolution.
To date, the majority of studies on DU have focused on military personnel from DU users and their allies. In its side event
on the 23rd
, ICBUW argued that a greater focus should be placed on civilian studies, particularly efforts to determine the extent to which DU, a recognised carcinogen
, is getting into people. This research will require much greater transparency on behalf of DU users over targeting coordinates.
Beyond the lack of transparency, Costa Rica raised DU’s post-conflict legacy: “DU weapons can contaminate soils and groundwater and their use creates large quantities of contaminated military scrap, which is costly and technically challenging to manage appropriately.” It is for these reasons that Iraq has requested assistance from the international community. The situation speaks of a wider problem, again raised by Costa Rica: “The current lack of obligations for assisting affected states exacerbates these problems further and places civilians at unnecessary risk.”
ICBUW strongly urges the states to consider how obligations for the post-conflict management of DU contaminated material could be developed and how technical expertise and financial assistance might be made available to affected states.
The growing number of states in favour of resolutions on DU indicates that the international community finds its use to be broadly undesirable. Mexico summed up the feelings of many, arguing that: “the use of DU should be limited to peaceful purposes...thus avoiding the use of radioactive material in armaments.”
Costa Rica who, together with Belgium, has banned the weapons, went further: “Costa Rica has banned the use of DU weapons and supports Iraq’s call for a treaty providing the legal foundation for a global ban.”