On 7.12.20, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/75/42 on „Effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium“. In terms of content and text, the resolution corresponds to the previous resolutions (most recently) adopted every two years. It is not a ban resolution; it contains neither a negotiating mandate nor a draft treaty on uranium or DU weapons and is more of a „procedural resolution“ that keeps the issue under discussion. Nevertheless, it contains references to principles that are important for the DU issue, such as transparency, assistance and support, and the precautionary approach. There are also references to the „rules of international humanitarian law“ and the „potentially harmful effects“ of the use of DU munitions on human health and the environment.
What may be missing and should be included in the future is a link or reference with regard to the increasingly emerging broader discourse (within and outside the United Nations) on environmental destruction through war and general connection between environment and armed conflicts. Examples for such discourse can be found in the UN Environment Assembly, the UN International Law Commission and the UN Human Rights Council. ICBUW pointed out these and other connections in a position paper in the run-up to the resolution discussion.
Let’s take a look at the voting behaviour of the states and its development (in historical comparison):
Since 2007, the General Assembly has been voting on resolutions on the effects of DU munitions on a regular basis. In the same year, Belgium and Costa Rica had already announced their national ban on uranium weapons. From time to time, however, states abstain from voting and a few even vote against the resolution, even though the issue is one of global importance. In the first year of the vote, the USA, the United Kingdom, Israel, Tanzania and the Netherlands were the only states to vote against the resolution. However, a total of 36 countries abstained, including Spain, Sweden and Portugal. France even did not vote at first, whereas Serbia, Germany and Italy and the vast majority of the General Assembly voted in favour of the resolution.
The voting behaviour was subject to change over the years, which is probably also due to a certain political calculation. It is very obvious that over the years the same four states have always voted against the resolution: the USA, France, the United Kingdom and Israel. In a sense, 4 potential users oft DU-weapons.
In 2010, Germany, Serbia and 146 other countries also voted in favour of the resolution, but again 30 countries abstained. Of the 192 participating member states, a total of 10 did not vote, including China.
In 2012, there was a large vote in favour of the resolution, with 155 positive votes, with the number of abstentions always fluctuating and steadily decreasing over the years. Two years later, in 2014, Germany abstained for the first time and maintained this position in subsequent years. This change in German voting behaviour, for which there is no understandable reason, has been sharply criticized by the ICBUW.
In 2016, Germany also abstained, as did 28 other member states. The number of no-votes equalled 10 this time. In 2018, 151 member states voted in favour of the resolution, with Portugal and Spain consistently abstaining across the different voting periods.
Again, this year, the resolution was voted on, with only 24 countries abstaining. 159 voted in favour of the resolution, 3 countries (France, Israel and the USA) voted against and only 7 countries did not participate in the vote (including China). (The UK’s abstention may be due to technical issue; after all, there was a UK “against”-vote in the previous voting session in the first committee of the General Assembly.)
The voting behaviour of recent years shows that the issue is repeatedly pushed aside by the „powerful“ states (in the sense of international law). Most NATO countries either voted against it or abstained from voting. This contrasts with the record number of 159 yes-votes (including Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Serbia). It corresponds to the general tendency to view DU weapons increasingly critically, to abolish them or to replace them.
In conclusion: It is an important, timely UN resolution that supports ICBUW’s work to completely ban uranium weapons and help their victims. This is and remains significant in Covid times, which once again demonstrate the fragile link between the global environment and health…
(Manfred Mohr/Eliah Buchholz)