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Swedish campaigners focus on new UN resolution on depleted uranium

Campaigners and parliamentarians in Sweden will be urging their government to move from an abstention on this October’s UN First Committee vote.
18 April 2012 - ICBUW

Swedish civil society groups are growing increasingly frustrated with their government’s international position on DU weapons. The feeling was made apparent during a series of meetings in Stockholm this week. The government had previously stated that there was insufficient evidence of harm from the munitions, yet simultaneously abstained on UN resolutions calling for more research in affected states, and the transparency required to facilitate it.

The Swedish position has surprised many observers as Sweden has a broadly positive track record on arms issues. Belgian parliamentarian Dirk Van der Maelen MP, visiting Stockholm for the events, was among those who expressed surprise. He noted that Sweden’s commitment to land mines and cluster bombs had been positive, and that transparency seemed, to outsiders at least, ingrained in the Swedish psyche.

“We believe that Sweden’s position on this issue is growing increasingly untenable,” said Anita Lilburn of Action Group Against Radioactive Warfare, who had organised the Stockholm events. “The growing body of scientific data on DU’s hazards and the failure of states to effectively manage post-conflict contamination are underlining the unacceptability of these indiscriminate weapons.”

A fourth resolution on DU weapons will be submitted at the UN First Committee in October. Sweden is one of a diminishing number of EU states that have continued to abstain on the votes, in spite of overwhelming global support for the modestly worded texts.

Dirk Van der Maelen speaking to campaigners

The campaigners raised their concerns during a meeting for civil society groups interested in the issue. Dirk Van der Maelen spoke at the event and explained the process that led to Belgium becoming the first country in the world to ban the weapons, a process in which he played a leading part. He discussed the importance of the close ties between civil society and parliamentarians and the need for a cross party approach. He praised the Belgian Coalition Stop Uranium Weapons for its role in providing reliable data and described the visit he had from US representatives who were keen for the ban bill not to pass. A record of the discussions later appeared in a series of Wikileaks cables and he recalled the assurances that he gave the Americans that the bill would not damage their interests.

Other speakers included Ria Verjauw of the Belgian Coalition – who discussed developments in the international campaign, and Doug Weir of ICBUW - who introduced a new framework for a DU ban based on the precautionary principle.

All three later spoke at an event hosted by ARK at the Swedish Parliament and met with representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of the Environment to discuss Sweden’s voting record at the UN. Five of Sweden’s political parties were represented at the parliamentary meeting, which had been organised with the help of MPs from the Green and Left parties.