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UK parliamentarians submit motion calling for government to support UN resolution on depleted uranium weapons

Members of Parliament from the three largest UK political parties have submitted an Early Day Motion (EDM) that calls on the UK government to support a resolution calling for transparency from DU users that has been tabled at the UN.
14 October 2010 - ICBUW

The EDM was sponsored by Peter Bottomley MP (Conservative) and attracted co-sponsors Tony Lloyd (Labour) and Tim Farron (Liberal Democrat). It comes as UN member states are once again considering a resolution on depleted uranium that has been tabled at the UN First Committee. If passed at the end of this month, the resolution will be voted on by the General Assembly in late November.

What is an Early Day Motion?

Early day motions (EDMs) are formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons. However, very few EDMs are actually debated. Instead, they are used for reasons such as publicising the views of individual MPs, drawing attention to specific events or campaigns, and demonstrating the extent of parliamentary support for a particular cause or point of view.

An MP can add their signature to an EDM to show their support. They can also submit amendments to an existing EDM.

The EDM acknowledges past UK cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme and the Iraqi Environment Ministry in examining locations where UK forces fired DU in southern Iraq. However it expresses concern that more than 400,000kg of US DU remains unaccounted for in the country. Without knowing where the weapons have been used it is impossible to begin to mitigate the risks that the contamination poses to the civilian population. At present there are few regulations governing the use of uranium weapons – a situation at odds with the guidelines issued to military personnel to reduce their risk of exposure.

The UK has voted against the two previous resolutions in 2007 and 2008, finding itself isolated in 2008 with only the US, France and Israel, as 141 states voted in favour. In explaining their previous position they claimed that sufficient research into the issue had been done, in spite of the dearth of studies into exposed civilian populations. A full statement by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 2008 can be found at the end of this article.

A spokesperson from the UK Uranium Weapons Network said: “The UK is a strong advocate for transparency in other areas of arms control. It would therefore be strange if they refused to support this rather modest UN text. Given that the UK has already cooperated with the UN’s agencies and Iraqi government on the whereabouts of contaminated sites in Iraq, and helped fund a training programme for Iraqi researchers, they should have no problem in supporting this resolution. We hope that the EDM will draw widespread support in parliament”

The call for transparency echoes a request by the UK Royal Society from 2003, in it Professor Brian Spratt, Chair of the Society’s working group on depleted uranium said: “The coalition needs to make clear where and how much depleted uranium was used in the recent conflict in Iraq. We need this information to identify civilians and soldiers who should be monitored for depleted uranium exposure and to begin a clean-up of the environment. Fragments of depleted uranium penetrators are potentially hazardous, and a recent Royal Society study recommended that they should be removed, and areas of contamination around impact sites identified, and where necessary made safe.”

In 2003, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Defence told the BBC that the UK had a moral obligation to the people of Iraq over its use of depleted uranium. As media reports detailing increased rates of cancers and birth defects in Iraqi cities have multiplied, it remains to be seen whether the current government also accepts this position.

EDM 825

Bottomley, Peter

That this House notes that the British Army maintains depleted uranium (DU) munitions within its arsenal and that 1.9 tonnes of DU rounds were fired by UK forces during Operation Telic in Iraq; recognises the continuing news stories emerging of higher rates of childhood leukaemia and birth defects in Iraqi cities since the conflict began; acknowledges that the Ministry of Defence has released to the United Nations Environment Programme the coordinates where UK forces fired DU; is aware that US armed forces expended at least 404 tonnes of DU ammunitionin the 1991 and 2003 Iraq conflicts but have yet to release the firing coordinates to the UN; appreciates that without full transparency it will remain impossible properly to monitor and decontaminate which in turn will lead to avoidable civilian exposures; and calls on the Government to support the resolution to be put before the UN General Assembly this autumn calling on states to provide quantitative and geographical data on DU munitions use to the relevant authorities of the affected states.

UWN logo The UK Uranium Weapons Network includes: The Campaign Against Depleted Uranium, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Environmental Justice Foundation, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, MEDACT, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Northern Friends Peace Board, Pax Christi, People & Planet and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.