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UN General Assembly to consider fifth resolution on depleted uranium weapons

This October, states will vote on a fifth UN General Assembly resolution on DU. We look at previous votes and what we think should be reflected in the new text. You can also download our new briefing on the resolutions, key issues and state positions.
1 October 2014 - ICBUW

In 2007, the Non-Aligned Movement submitted a resolution expressing concerns over the use of ‘arms and ammunition containing depleted uranium’ – and their potentially harmful effects on human health and the environment. The resolution passed by 136 votes to six, with 36 abstentions. The six opposed were the UK, US, France, Israel, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands.

Further resolutions were tabled in 2008, 2010 and 2012, and the UK, US, France and Israel, who found themselves isolated just one year later have remained the only four states to consistently oppose the texts. Support for the resolutions has grown year on year, increasing to 141 in 2008, to 148 in 2010 and to 155 states in favour in 2012.

Unusually for resolutions at the General Assembly, or more correctly the General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, new language strengthening the resolutions has been added each time. In 2008 the UN’s agencies were urged to update their research on DU, a plea which met with mixed success; in 2010 DU users were urged to transfer targeting data to affected states, which again is a work in progress, and in 2012 states were urged to take a precautionary approach to the post-conflict management of DU, as recommended by UNEP.

As suggested above, the resolutions are non-binding. However they are normative and provide a useful snapshot of international opinion on the weapons. As noted by UNEP in 2009: “These two resolutions could eventually lead to the codification in treaty law of norms protecting both human health and the environment from depleted uranium armaments, thus addressing the current major gap in treaty law regarding the use of such weapons.”

ICBUW and our partners have played a leading role in the success of the process since 2007 and, as usual, we will be working hard to ensure the success of this year’s text. The contents of this year’s resolution will be decided by the Non-Aligned Movement as a whole during the First Committee itself but there are topics that we would very much like to see included. Key issues that have emerged since 2012 include the tidal wave of data on how DU can damage DNA and cause cancer, the US’s use of DU against non-armoured targets in Iraq and the lack of international assistance for DU clearance.

ICBUW is not alone in having a wish list. The European Parliament has already submitted its views to the Council of Ministers on the position it would like EU Member States to take, they called on Member States to: "support UNGA resolutions on depleted uranium weapons and to develop an EU Common Position that better reflects Parliament’s repeated calls for a precautionary global moratorium and the developing global consensus on the potential civilian health risks, complex post-conflict management burden and financial costs associated with their use”.

EU member state voting positions on UNGA resolutions

The EU is disproportionately represented in the dwindling number of states still abstaining on the issue with Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden still dragging their heels. This is in spite of five European Parliament resolutions stretching back for a decade calling for action on the issue. The Russian Federation – a DU producer – and Turkey – a DU stockpiler – are also among those that abstain, as are Canada and Australia, neither of which allow DU to be fired on their own territory or allow their uranium exports to be used for military purposes: with Australia’s policy specifically mentioning DU weapons in this respect.

Hypocrisy and inactivity aside, and in spite of the non-binding nature of the resolutions, they do have an important role to play in further stigmatising DU weapons, on progress towards their ultimate elimination from the world’s arsenals and towards assistance for states and communities affected by their use. ICBUW therefore urges campaigners and the public to make their views heard in the run up to the voting around November 5th.

UNGA briefing paper To help in this process, we have prepared a briefing for campaigners and diplomats, which can be downloaded below.  It has information on the resolutions, key issues, state positions, real world case studies from PAX and Norwegian People’s Aid on Iraq and demining and, of course, the views of UN agencies such as the WHO, IAEA and UNEP.

Follow us on Twitter via @ICBUW for updates from New York.    


  • ICBUW 2014 UNGA Briefing Paper

    989 Kb - Format pdf
    All you need to know for the UN General Assembly: history of the resolutions, key DU issues, state and agency positions and case studies on Iraq and DU and demining.