As the main advocate for the ban of depleted uranium (DU) weapons, the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) welcomes the Draft Resolution A/C.1/77/L.10 which was discussed and voted on during the First Committee and the corresponding resolution A/RES/77/49 “Effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium”. The resolution was adopted by the General Assembly (GA) as a positive step towards protecting civilians and the environment from the harmful effects of depleted uranium weapons.
The new resolution corresponds to the previous resolutions (the most recent one was adopted two years ago) on this matter in terms of content and text. It puts the emphasis on the importance of transparency and cooperation among states and calls on states to share information and best practices in order to better understand the health and environmental impacts of depleted uranium weapons.
The resolution also recognizes the important role that international organizations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), can play in addressing the issue of depleted uranium weapons. It calls on states to work closely with these organizations to ensure that the best available scientific and medical knowledge is used to address the issue. Another emphasis of the resolution which, most importantly, calls for precautionary approach to the use of depleted uranium, is on the need to protect civilians and the environment from the harmful effects of depleted uranium weapons. The resolution urges states to take all necessary measures to address the environmental and health impacts of these weapons, including providing medical care and cleaning up contaminated sites. This is an important step towards ensuring that those who are most affected by these weapons are given the support they need.
Finally, the new resolution calls for continued efforts to raise awareness on the issue of depleted uranium weapons and their impact on human health and the environment. It highlights the importance of education and training in ensuring that all stakeholders, including military personnel, are aware of the risks associated with these weapons.
Despite the current context in which the resolution was adopted with the ongoing full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, neither a link nor any other sort of reference is included to the broader discourse on environmental destruction through war and the general connection between environment and armed conflict being so evident. ICBUW has repeatedly pointed out this connection in the run-up to the resolution and considers the omission of even a slight mention of it as a weakness of the A/RES/77/49.
During the last 15 years, a positive trend could be observed in the voting behavior of the member states. The trend seems to have (at least to date) peaked in 2020 with 159 countries in favor of the resolution, only 3 countries against and 24 countries abstaining. In 2022, there was a significant reduction of the votes in favor of the resolution (147), which is, among other things, due to the fact that many states did not vote on the issue in 2022. As for the abstentions and “no”-votes, the UK voted with a “no” that year, which confirms, that the 2020 abstention vote in the GA was due to a technical issue. In particular regarding the change of the voting behavior, North Macedonia, who voted in favor of the resolution last time, abstained in the First Committee vote and did not participate in the GA vote. The country did not provide an explanation to the vote, but it may be due to the rising national security concerns in context of the war in Ukraine. Another notable change is the voting behavior of Liberia, which voted with a “no” during the First Committee and did not participate in the UN GA vote. In 2020, Liberia voted in favor of the resolution, no explanation or note on the change was provided.
Apart from the UK, Israel, France and the US voted against the resolution, demonstrating consistent voting behavior over the years. It still is of immense importance, that despite the ”powerful” states (in the sense of international politics) and the NATO countries in general voting consistently against the resolutions or abstaining from the vote, the vast majority of the countries express their concerns regarding the depleted uranium weapons.
To have a universal and comprehensive effect ICBUW believes that the implementation of a ban on depleted uranium weapons is necessary in order to prevent further harm to civilians and the environment. The use of these weapons is not only a violation of international humanitarian law but also a threat to global health and security. Resolutions like this one are especially relevant and important in the current context, considering the use of depleted uranium weapons in Ukraine by Russia, which was already confirmed by the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining.
The Resolution is an important step towards addressing the concerns related to depleted uranium weapons and setting the solid UN frame for the topic. However, more needs to be done…
(Nadine Isabelle Kas and Ilia Kukin – ICBUW Team)