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UN condemns DU weapons - Rejects US Argument That DU Is A 'Legal' Weapon

McDermott Leads Congressional Call to Study Effects of Depleted Uranium

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UN Condemns DU Weapons

The UN Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities passed a resolution condemning the use of Depleted Uranium and certain other weapons during its 48th session in August 1996:

"On matters concerning international peace and security, the Subcommission:

  • Affirmed that weapons of mass destruction and, in particular, nuclear weapons should have no role to play in international relations and thus should be eliminated;

  • Further reaffirmed its support for a total ban on the production, marketing and use of such weapons; urged States that had not yet done so to sign and ratify the Convention on Conventional Weapons and Protocols thereto;

  • Urged all States to be guided in their national policies by the need to curb production and spread of weapons of mass destruction or with indiscriminate effect, in particular nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, fuel-air bombs, napalm, cluster bombs, biological weaponry and weaponry containing depleted uranium;

  • Requested the Secretary-General to collect information from governments and other relevant sources on the use of such weapons and on their consequential and cumulative effects, and to submit a report on the matter to the Subcommission at its forty-ninth session."



UN Rejects US Argument That DU Is A 'Legal' Weapon

US-UK Defeated On DU Vote At The UN Sub-Commission

Contact Philippa Winkler
928 774-1765 (USA)


Efforts by the US/UK to keep depleted uranium off the agenda of the UN Sub-Commission on Protection and Promotion of Human Rights failed this August (2002) as the Sub-Commission clearly decided that depleted uranuim weaponry qualify as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and authorized a prominent member, Justice Y. Sik Yuen (Mauritius) to prepare a study on the topic.

The UK member of the Sub-Commisson tried to have depleted uranium weaponry deleted from the study, which had been authorized earlier by the Sub-Commission, arguing that DU weaponry are not WMD,but her proposed amendments and a substitute resolution were defeated, drawing only two votes -- hers and the vote of the member from Norway.

The debate as well as the outcome reinforces the claim made by Karen Parker and supported by a clear majority of international experts --including 23 of the 26 members of the Sub-Commission -- that DU is already banned because it is incompatible with existing humanitarian law and qualifies as WMD. (The American member was chair and did not vote, but according to eyewitnesses allowed the Norwegian member to speak beyond the limits usually allocated for such debates.)

The vote to study weapons of mass destruction including DU is the latest success of UN non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who, beginning in 1996, started a campaign for a strong condemnation of both DU and sanctions. In 1996 attorney Karen Parker, Margarita Papendreou, Dr. Beatrice Boctor, Philippa Winkler and Dr. Gorst Gunther (all representing International Educational Development/ Humanitarian Law Project (IED/HLP)) made a two prong charge against both DU and sanctions at that year's session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

Then, at the 1996 session of the Sub-Commission, following a speech made by attorney Karen Parker on behalf of IED/HLP and extensive lobbying by her and Fabio Marcelli (Italy) on the effects of DU on Iraq, a resolution was adopted by the Sub-Commission that included depleted uranium weaponry on a list of other "bad" weapons and asked the Secretary-General to present a report on these weapons to the 1997 session of the Sub-Commission. The report was to reflect submissions from governments, NGOs and others.

The Secretary-General's report was submitted on schedule in 1997, thanks to the efforts of Karen Parker, Damacio Lopez, Felicity Arbuthnot, Philippa Winkler and others and was issued as U.N. Doc.E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/27 and Add.

1. That year the Sub-Commission decided to appoint one of its members, Mme Forero Ucros (Columbia), to prepare a working paper preparatory to a full study. Unfortunately Mme Forero never returned to the Sub-Commission, with many saying this was because of US pressure.

The same year, however, the Sub-Commission moved on the sanctions issue, and adopted a resolution on economic sanctions -- responding again to a speech by Karen Parker. Unfortunately, that resolution's author, Marc Bossuyt (Belgium) was ill the following year, and was unable to attend the Sub-Commisison's session. When he returned in 1999, the Sub-Commission authorized him to prepare a working paper on sanctions, issued as UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/33.

Following the departure of Mme Forero, there were changes in the membership of the Sub-Commission, and the "team" was uncertain whether it was necessary or useful to go forward with a study on DU and the other listed weapons, in part because (1) the Sub-Commission had already labeled DU as a WMD, and (2) the Secretary-General's report contained substantial portions of both the Parker Memorandum on Weapons, the submission of the International Indian Treaty Council and a number of countries, all essentially implying the same thing -- DU weaponry is incompatible with existing international humanitarian law and human rights norms.

However, during these three years, the NGOs at the UN continued to present seminars, films and keep up the pressure. In 1999, the video documentary "From Radioactive Mines to Radioactive Weapons" was shown at the Commission. The documentary linked the health impacts of uranium mining on Navajo miners to the impacts of DU weapons, and described tests done by Dr Hari Sharma showing the presence of DU in Gulf War veterans including Ray Bristow. The number of UN NGOs presenting statements on DU continued to grow. At the 2001 session of the Sub-Commission, one of the most respected members of the Sub-Commission, Justice Y. Sik Yuen (Mauritius) agreed to go forward with the study. (Karen Parker had tried toconvince him to take on this study for several years, but he had already been assigned another study). By Thursday of the first week of the 2001 session, the draft resolution was tabled (submitted) with 16 co-sponsors.

The final debate on the draft became, as Karen Parker says, a "dream come true." The US and UK tried to urge that DU is a 'conventional' weapon and therefore 'legal.' So the debate really shows that these two countries are backed into a corner, and the rest of the world accepts that DU is and always was illegal." (Please note: There have been many NGOs who have contributed to this effort at the Sub-Commission and we apologize if some have not been mentioned by name.)

The documents from the Sub-Commission are not yet all posted on the UN web-site, and as soon as they are available, we will let you know.

In the meantime, Karen Parker will be assisting Justice Sik Yuen on this study, and requests that people begin to collect the latest relevant information to transmit to her at if they are small enough. Larger documents may be transmitted to her office by mail. Funds to assist this effort may be made out to Karen Parker directly, of for those wishing to make a tax-exempt contribution, to the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers, and sent to The Law Offices of Karen Parker, 154-5th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA.

Below is the relevent press release from the UN website



Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights 53rd session 16 August 2001. Afternoon

The Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights this afternoon adopted a number of resolutions and measures which, among other things, requested its members to carry out studies on human rights and weapons of mass destruction; the transfer and use of small arms in the context of human rights; the return of refugees' or displaced persons' property; and non-discrimination.

Concerning weapons, the Subcommission, by a show of hands vote of 21 in favour and 2 against, approved a decision that asked Subcommission Expert Y.K.J. Yeung Sik Yuen to prepare a paper on human rights and weapons of mass destruction.

In the report, he would assess the utility, scope and structure of a study on the real and potential dangers to the effective enjoyment of human rights posed by the testing, production, storage, transfer, trafficking, or use of weapons of mass destruction with indiscriminate effect, or of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering, including the use of weaponry containing depleted uranium.

Jeff Rense

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