Call For Banning Radioactive Weapons Gathers Momentum
Amidst growing apprehension that the United States and its allies might use radioactive weapons in Libya, as they are reported to have done in several local and limited wars beginning with the 1991 Iraq War, the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) is calling for a global treaty to prohibit such arsenal.
By Jaya Ramachandran
While denying reports that the United States has been dropping toxic depleted uranium (DU) shells in Libya, it has refused to rule out the use of such weapons in the future, reinforcing mounting concern about the ‘collateral damage’ to civilians in the North African country, whom the UN Security Council resolution 1973, seeks to protect.
*”I don’t want to speculate on what may or may not be used in the future,”* the U.S. air force spokeswoman, Paula Kurtz, told Herald Scotland on April 2, 2011. She admitted that the U.S. was using A-10 tank buster aircraft designed to destroy armored cars and tanks, which are capable of firing 3,900 armor-piercing DU-tipped shells per minute.
Kurtz insisted that the A-10s had not been loaded with DU ammunition. *”Weapons with depleted uranium have not been used in Libya,”* she said.
But critics say that the U.S. has sometimes been *”economical”* with the truth about the use of DU weapons. *”We continue to seek a cast-iron guarantee that depleted uranium has not been used and will not be used in Libya,”* said Kate Hudson, the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
*”The U.S. has a long history of only admitting to deploying this radioactive material months or years after it has been used,”* Hudson added.
DU is a radioactive and chemically toxic heavy metal. When DU weapons burn, they release a toxic and radioactive dust. *”Hard targets hit by DU penetrators are surrounded by this dust and surveys suggest that it can travel many kilometers when re-suspended, as is likely in arid climates. The dust can then be inhaled or ingested by civilians and the military alike,”* ICBUW says.
DU is considered to be the cause of a sharp increase in the incidence rates of some cancers, such as breast cancer and lymphoma, in areas of Iraq following 1991 and 2003. It has also been implicated in a rise in birth defects from areas adjacent to the main Gulf War battlefields.
According to ICBWU, DU been used by the British and U.S. military forces in armor-piercing shells fired in the 1991 Gulf War, in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo during a series of wars, fought throughout the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995, and in the war in Iraq by the U.S. and Britain in 2003, ICBUW informs. In addition, it is considered to be in use by around 18 other countries.
*”It is suspected that the U.S. also used DU in Afghanistan in 2001, although both the U.S. and UK governments have denied using it there. However, leaked transport documents suggest that U.S. forces in Afghanistan have DU weapons. The continued use of A10 ‘Warthog’ aircraft in support of NATO ground troops indicates that DU may be being used there,”* says ICBUW, which represents more than 120 NGOs worldwide.
The Coalition seeks to do for uranium weapons what the International Coalition to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munition Coalition did for those types of weapons: to draft a ‘uranium weapons treaty’ that would prohibit the use of uranium in all conventional — non-nuclear — weapons.
ICBUW is calling on the U.S. to give a categorical assurance, similar to that given by British Prime Minister David Cameron that weapons containing DU have no place in this conflict. *”In the event that they have already been used, immediate steps to warn people in affected areas should be taken, and decontamination work should be undertaken at the earliest possible opportunity,”* ICBUW insists.
It urges Washington *”to take steps in a clear and transparent manner to assure the world that no U.S. aircraft will go into the air equipped with DU ammunition, and that pilots will not be cleared to fire it.”*
Besides, *”any DU ammunition currently in theater should be separated and left un-used and information concerning any locations where the weapons have been used should be made available,”* ICBUW demands.
Meanwhile, The Dutch Labor and Socialist Parties have asked the Dutch government to show transparency about the possible use by the U.S. of depleted uranium weapons in Operation ‘Unified Protector’. The Netherlands Royal Air Force is actively participating in enforcing the no-fly zone in Libya with F16s, a tanker plane and a minesweeper vessel.
Wim Zwijnenburg, Policy Advisor for IKV Pax Christi says: *”Currently, there is a lack of transparency over the use of these (DU) weapons, which hampers proper research in areas affected by their use. We can only hope that the U.S. did not deploy them in Libya.”*
Zwijnenburg says there is also a strong need of transparency over the use of DU in Iraq, in order to carry out research and provide technical assistance to clean up the 400,000kgs of depleted uranium that has been fired during the last two Gulf Wars.
*”We cannot afford to have another area polluted with, as the International Atomic Energy Agency puts it, with ‘low level radioactive waste’. We hope that increased international attention on this issue will further stigmatize the use of DU.”*
Zwijnenburg points out that in the past, the Dutch government has been reluctant to take a strong position on DU weapons, despite repeated requests to do so from the parliament. The government even put aside a motion from the parliament that called for a moratorium on depleted uranium weapons.
*”The Netherlands supported UN General Assembly resolution A/65/55 in December 2010. This resolution called for transparency over the use of DU and asked member states to implement recommendations made by, amongst others, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme. The latter recommended a precautionary approach to the use of DU weapons,”* IKC Pax Christi said in a statement on April 7, 2011.