Legality of depleted uranium weapons
Bernard Hibbitts at 3:29 PM ET
[JURIST] From Thursday's UN humanitarian briefing in Amman, Jordan:
Q: Michael Jansen, Irish Times: Yesterday a British military briefing officer in Qatar confirmed that they were using Depleted Uranium [tank shells]. What would the legal, health, environmental implications of the use of these shells?A complete transcript of Thursday's UN humanitarian briefing from Amman is now available from the UN.
Q: These weapons are not addressed by any international treaty; so they are not illegal. UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] has conducted a number of scientific studies of the environmental effect of these weapons in the Balkans. What we find is that when these weapons are used, you can detect a very low level of radiation in the target zone. However, they are very low & don't cause any significant risks. There are of course there are some remaining scientific uncertainties, notably whether they can enter ground water after a few years & whether they can be re-suspended in the air with the dust being kicked out with wind, human activity & potentially breathed in. Our view is that DU weapons are used, it's important to clean up the targeted sites & also conduct scientific assessments of the area.
The legality of depleted uranium weapons is somewhat less clear in the view of the International Committee of the Red Cross:
According to international humanitarian law an explicit formulation appears in Article 36 of Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions, which is binding on 157 States States are required to ensure that any new weapon, means or method of warfare does not contravene existing rules of international law. These rules prohibit weapons, means or methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering, which have indiscriminate effects or which cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment. The ICRC strongly urges all States which study, develop, acquire or adopt munitions containing depleted uranium to carry out such legal reviews if they have not already done so, and would welcome an exchange of views and information on these reviews. Within alliances or groups of States, it seems particularly important that appropriate legal review mechanisms should be established on weapons, means or methods of warfare which may be used by such alliances or groups of States or that an exchange of information on national legal reviews should take place. Read more ICRC information on depleted uranium munitions.
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