The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons: International office has moved from Manchester to Berlin
Since the first use of Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons in the Gulf War in 1991, there has been concern about the effect on the environment and the health risks to the civilian population and all life forms. DU is a chemically toxic and radioactive, heavy metal which is produced as a by-product of the enrichment of uranium for civil nuclear power and nuclear weapons programs. It is used in armour-piercing munitions because of its very high density; DU is 1.7 times denser than lead, giving DU weapons increased range and penetrative power.
National groups were formed in the 1990s to raise awareness of the dangers of DU weapons in countries across the globe including the USA, Japan and the UK. At the same time groups with a wider remit took up the issue, like the LAKA Foundation and Pax Christi in the Netherlands, the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) in Germany and Women for Peace in Finland. In other countries, for example, Belgium, a national coalition was formed.
By 2003 the groups had come together to establish an international campaigning group to raise awareness of DU and actively work for a change. ICBUW, the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, was born. Its first secretariat was in Amsterdam, but this was later moved to Manchester in the UK where it shared an office with CADU.
Although there is no treaty explicitly banning the use of DU, it is clear that using DU runs counter to the basic rules and principles enshrined in written and customary International Humanitarian Law being also inconsistent with other branches of international law such as human rights and environmental law. In 2008, the European Parliament strengthened its previous calls for a moratorium by calling for the introduction of a total ban, classifying the use of DU, along with white phosphorous, as inhumane. Since 2007, the UN General Assembly has been dealing with the topic of uranium weapons expressing serious concerns over the use of these weapons, touching upon the need of transparency and the problems of affected countries while finally stressing the precautionary approach as well as the need to help those countries.
In 2007, Belgium became the first country in the world to ban all conventional weapons containing uranium. Other states are set to follow their example.
From 2008 onwards a number of compensation cases have been brought against the Italian government by veterans made ill following their service in Iraq and the Balkans.
The ICBUW office in Berlin will now continue to build on the important achievements so far, including the resolutions passed in the European Parliament and at the United Nations. There is a growing consensus among civil society groups, scientists and some military organisations that the health risks from DU have been seriously underestimated. Established scientific bodies have been slow to react to the wealth of new research into DU and policy makers have been content to ignore the claims of researchers and activists. Deliberate obfuscation by the mining, nuclear and arms industries has further hampered efforts to recognise the problem and achieve a ban.
ICBUW's Berlin office will be directed by Prof. Manfred Mohr, supported by some staff (like interns) as well as volunteers. There will be an ICBUW Steering Group with active members from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, USA and the UK. An Advisory Board, with specialists who can give advice and scientific support, will be established during the coming months. A new unified ICBUW website is under preparation.
Contact addresses are:
10117 Berlin, Germany