Five reasons to ban depleted uranium weapons


To mark the International Day of Action Against Depleted Uranium Weapons, we’ve put together five good reasons to ban depleted uranium weapons. We would also like you to pledge to work with us during 2014 to help build on our success so far.
Given all that is known about DU and the typical response from the public to the thought of using radioactive and chemically toxic materials in conventional weapons it seems strange to have to list five reasons why states shouldn’t. Nevertheless, here are five that the users of the weapons have seemed keen to avoid discussing during debates on their acceptability:

  1. DU is radioactive and chemically toxic. An increasing number of laboratory studies have shown that as a material it is genotoxic – it can damage DNA – potentially leading to cancers and other health problems. The generation of DU dusts and the contamination of soils and groundwater ensure that realistic pathways exist for DU to get into civilians.
  2. Users of DU have been unwilling to make data available on where DU has been fired and in what quantities. This lack of transparency makes assessing the risks its use poses to civilians very difficult. It also impedes post-conflict assessment and clearance.
  3. States recovering from conflict find effectively dealing with DU contaminated sites extremely challenging. Huge volumes of contaminated scrap metal, soils and building materials must be dealt with. The radiation does not simply disappear and contaminated materials must be identified, separated and stored indefinitely. This places a huge financial and logistical burden on affected states.
  4. Research from Iraq and the Balkans has demonstrated that DU munitions have been used against non-armoured targets. The US and UK have always argued that DU is only for use against armoured vehicles but the reality from conflict zones shows that the use of DU by aircraft and armoured fighting vehicles results in buildings and other civilian infrastructure being targeted. The implications for civilian exposure to DU residues are clear.
  5. Systems to monitor civilian health and exposure to environmental contaminants after conflict are usually absent, which allows states to dismiss or ignore reports from medical professionals on the ground. It is clear that DU exposure is a potential risk factor for post-conflict health problems and precaution dictates that it should not be used.

This time last year, 155 countries supported a UN General Assembly resolutionthat recognised the potential risks from DU. Just four states opposed the text – the US, UK, France and Israel. It called for users to transfer targeting and usage data to affected states when requested to do so. Crucially it requested that states adopt a precautionary approach to the use of DU munitions. ICBUW’s researchhas shown that DU’s indiscriminate nature and the persistent failure to adequately manage its post-conflict legacy have demonstrated that its use is wholly incompatible with any definition of precaution.
Still unconvinced? What would the response from the authorities look like if large quantities of DU were dispersed in London, Washington, Paris, Moscow, Islamabad or Beijing? Would it still be acceptable, would it still be harmless? Would we still delay action while we waited for more research to contamination inStockholm, Copenhagen, Canberra, Ottawa or Madrid?
Next year a fifth resolution will be considered by the UN General Assembly. On this Day of Action we call on campaigners, states and experts worldwide to pledge to help us work towards greater progress towards a ban on DU and the help and assistance that communities living with its legacy desperately require.

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