UN General Assembly’s First Committee passes 6th depleted uranium resolution
146 states have voted in favour of the sixth resolution on DU weapons since 2007. This year’s text paid particular attention to the technical difficulties that affected states face in tackling DU contamination to internationally recognised radiation protection standards.
The resolution also took note of the ongoing concerns from states such as Iraq, and from health experts and civil society over the effects of the weapons on civilians. With the vote coming a week since the US admitted firing DU in Syria in 2015, concern over the health and environmental consequences of the use of the weapons is once again on the international agenda.
“With attention increasingly focused on the lack of obligations for the post-conflict management of DU contamination, the resolution’s reference to the difficulties affected states face is welcome,” said ICBUW Coordinator Doug Weir. “Without clear standards for clearance, and a mechanism for international assistance, civilians will continue to face avoidable exposure risks.”
True to form, just four states voted against the text, which will be voted on again by the General Assembly in early December. The US, UK, France and Israel remain the only four governments to continuously oppose the resolutions. In spite of repeated appeals from the European Parliament for progress on the topic, EU member states remained split on the resolution, with many among the 26 states still abstaining.
Germany, who up until 2014 had supported the resolutions, once again abstained, angering campaigners from ICBUW-Germany. Their position is all the more frustrating given that they elected not to develop DU weapons on the grounds of acceptability in the 1970s; and needless to say they warn their own military personnel of the dangers of battlefield exposure. Many abstainers used language in paragraph seven of the text to justify their political decision to abstain.
Last month Germany’s Foreign Minister Michael Roth claimed that the government took the debate on DU “very seriously” in a response to a parliamentary question from Green MP Agnieszka Brugger. However, in the run up to the vote Germany repeatedly sought to weaken the text of the resolution even though it seems apparent that Berlin had no intention of voting in favour.
“PAX is deeply disturbed that states abstaining on the resolution refused to recognise civilian concerns over exposure to depleted uranium, civilians who are rightly concerned that low-level radioactive waste in their environment could impact the lives of their families,” said PAX’s Wim Zwijnenburg. “Those states abstaining should look to their own guidelines on radiation protection and then consult their consciences on what would be the right thing do when it comes to protecting civilians in armed conflict.”
Prior to the 2015 election that saw Justin Trudeau sweep to power in Canada, his Liberal Party had been polled on their views on DU by Mines Action Canada. Their response couldn’t have been clearer: “The Liberal Party of Canada opposes the use of depleted uranium munitions.” Sadly Canada failed to live up to this ideal and abstained once again.
In spite of championing work on DU for many years, Norway joined the Netherlands in submitting an explanation of vote that cautioned against the use of language on the "potential health risks from DU". While both nevertheless voted in favour, they argued that the term "possible health effects" would have been preferable.
ICBUW was pleased that Sweden and Bulgaria, who first voted in favour of the resolution in 2014 supported the text again this year. Sweden joined Switzerland in calling for harm reduction measures, such as risk awareness work for affected communities. Palau voted in favour for the first time, continuing the trend that has seen the number of abstentions decreasing in recent years.