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141 states back DU resolution in UN General Assembly vote

ICBUW | 02.12.2008 16:46 | Anti-militarism | Iraq | Technology | World

The United Nations General Assembly has passed, by a huge majority, a resolution requesting its agencies to update their positions on the health and environmental effects of uranium weapons

• Overwhelming majority of states support further action on uranium weapons
• EU and NATO members split on the issue
• US, UK, Israel and France isolated
• UN Agencies forced to update their positions on uranium weapons by 2010
• 141 states vote in favour, 34 abstain, four vote against.

The resolution, which passed the First Committee stage on October 31st by 127 states to four, calls on three UN agencies - the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to update their positions on uranium weapons. 1 The overwhelming support for the text reflects increasing international concern over the long-term impact of uranium contamination in post-conflict environments and military ranges.

In the 17 years since uranium weapons were first used on a large scale in the 1991 Gulf War, a huge volume of peer-reviewed research has highlighted previously unknown pathways through which exposure to uranium’s heavy metal toxicity and radioactivity may damage human health. Throughout the world, parliamentarians have responded by supporting calls for a moratorium and ban, urging governments and the military to take a precautionary approach.2, 3 However the WHO and IAEA have been slow to react to this wealth of new evidence and it is hoped that this resolution will go some way to resolving this situation.4

In a welcome move, the text requests that all three UN agencies work closely with countries affected by the use of uranium weapons in compiling their research. Until now, most research by UN member states has focused on exposure in veterans and not on the civilian populations living in contaminated areas. Furthermore, recent investigations into US veteran studies have found them to be wholly incapable of producing useful data.5

The text also repeats the request for states to submit reports and opinions on uranium weapons to the UN Secretary General in the process that was started by last year’s resolution. Thus far, 19 states have submitted reports to the Secretary General; many of them call for action on uranium weapons and back a precautionary approach.6 The resolution ends by placing the issue on the agenda of the General Assembly’s 65th Session; this will begin in September 2010.

The First Committee vote saw significant voting changes in comparison to the previous year’s resolution, with key EU and NATO members such as the Netherlands, Finland, Norway and Iceland changing position to support calls for further action on the issue.7 These changes were echoed at the General Assembly vote. Once again Japan, which has been under considerable pressure from campaigners, supported the resolution.

Of the permanent five Security Council members, the US, UK and France voted against. They were joined by Israel. Russia abstained and China refused to vote.

“While we are relieved that the international community is finally beginning to accept the seriousness of this problem, ICBUW continues to be disappointed by the response from some European governments to this issue, particularly given the strength of feeling in the European Parliament,” said an ICBUW spokesperson. “However, what is now clear is that the WHO, IAEA and to a lesser extent UNEP must now give serious consideration to the wealth of new scientific data on uranium’s chemical toxicity and radioactivity. Furthermore, this resolution underlines the fact that it is unacceptable for states to continue to use incomplete, outdated or flawed studies to justify the continued use of uranium munitions. A precautionary approach is the only scientifically defensible course of action when dealing with these inhumane and indiscriminate weapons.”

The list of states abstaining from the vote, while shorter than in 2007, still contains Belgium, the only state to have implemented a domestic ban on uranium weapons, a fact that continues to anger Belgian campaigners. It is suspected that the Belgian government is wary of becoming isolated on the issue internationally. Two Nordic states, Denmark and Sweden continue to blow cold, elsewhere in Europe Poland, the Czech Republic , Portugal and Spain are also dragging their feet, in spite of a call for a moratorium and ban by 94% of MEPs earlier this year. Many of the abstainers are recent EU/NATO accession states or ex-Soviet republics such as Kazakhstan.

Australia and Canada, both of whom have extensive uranium mining interests and close ties to US foreign policy also abstained.

The resolution was submitted by Cuba and Indonesia on behalf of the League of Non-Aligned States.


1. Effects of arms and ammunitions containing depleted uranium, A.C.1/63/L.26.
2. European Parliament passes far reaching DU resolution in landslide vote
3. Belgium bans uranium weapons and armour
4. WHO DU position criticised, BBC Today Programme, Nov 2006
5. US Institute of Medicine study finds US veteran epidemiology study design wanting
6. UN Secretary General publishes report on uranium weapons
7. United Nations First Committee overwhelmingly backs new uranium weapons resolution

Notes for Editors

The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) campaigns for a ban on the use of uranium in all conventional weapons and monitoring, health care, compensation and environmental remediation for affected communities. ICBUW represents 104 NGOs in 28 countries and is following in the footsteps of the successful campaigns to ban land mines and cluster munitions.

Uranium Weapons
Uranium, or depleted uranium, is used in armour-piercing weapons and armour by around 18 states worldwide. It is used because of its high density – similar to gold – and its pyrophoric nature. Pyrophoric materials burn at room temperature when finely ground. This means uranium weapons produce large volumes of radioactive and chemically toxic dust when used. This dust contaminates battlefields and is almost impossible to clean up. Post-conflict uranium contamination has been linked to a sharp rise in the incidence of leukaemia, lymphoma and breast cancer in areas of Iraq where it was used in 1991 and 2003. It has also been implicated in an increase of certain birth malformations.

Because of this, ICBUW believes that uranium weapons breach the basic principles of International Humanitarian Law, such as protection of civilian populations and the environment. We believe that the best way of confirming their illegality is the development of a uranium weapons treaty.

For a more detailed briefing on uranium weapons, visit:

For further information please contact Doug Weir(Coordinator) on 44 (0) 161 273 8293 or

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