Fifty-third session
Item 5 of the provisional agenda

Human Rights and Toxics: Depleted Uranium and the Gulf War

Written statement submitted by
International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project
a non-governmental organization on the Roster

1. International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project welcomes the progress made on the issue of toxics and the innovative and necessary work of the Commission's rapporteur Fatma-Zohra Ksentini. We have submitted information to the rapporteur on the use of weapons containing depleted uranium by the United States forces in the Gulf War. We are also continuing to compile information on this subject in light of Sub-Commission resolution 1996/[ ] (U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1996/L.18) which requests that information on the use of weapons of mass destruction, including those containing depleted uranium, is including in a report by the Secretary-General to the Sub- Commission at its forty-ninth session.

2. During the Gulf War up to 800 tons of munitions containing depleted uranium were used by United States forces in military actions in Kuwait and Iraq. This was the first field test of these weapon in actual combat, and they proved to be exceptionally effective anti-tank projectiles due to their superior armour-piercing capacity. It is unclear how much of the discarded shell casings and other radioactive material still remains in Iraq, but several investigators who have traveled to the area reports that shell casings containing depleted uranium are scattered all over the ground in many areas, including in school yards and other similar civilian locales.

3. Depleted uranium contain about 30% less than normal of 235/U, a dangerous radioisotope of uranium used in nuclear bombs and commercial power plants. It is a byproduct of extraction of 235/U form natural uranium. Much of depleted uranium is 238/U with a half life of 4 billion years.

4. Depleted uranium vaporizes when deployed in armour-piercing bullets. Scientific studies indicate if as much as one small particle (<5 microns in diameter) enters the lungs, the lungs and surrounding tissue will be exposed to 270 times the radiation permitted for workers in the radiation industry.

5. We first raised this issue at the fifty-second session of the Commission when, in conjunction with Margarita Papandreou and Women for Mutual Security and the International Commission of Inquiry on Economic Sanctions, we addressed the serious situation of especially children in Iraq. Thousands of children in Iraq suffer from illnesses related to depleted uranium compounded in gravity by the effects of the economic sanctions. Now, children and animals in the area are being born with the serious congenital anomalies and disabilities associated with low grade radiation poisoning. At that session we presented Dr. Horst Gunther who has traveled to Iraq and who has documented, in report and by photograph, the devastating situation in Iraq.

6. Since that time, more evidence of the use of depleted uranium and the Iraqi medical catastrophe has been presented while at the same time the controversy over "Gulf War Syndrome" escalates in the United States. It now appears that key information relating to this situation has been removed from top secret files or destroyed.

7. Evidence compiled in the United States indicates as many as 50,000 veterans of the United States forces in the Gulf War and 4,000 or more from the allied countries have conditions that appear to be clear consequences of military service. There are no available statistics on the number of Iraqis showing similar symptoms, although Dr. Gunther's investigations indicate many thousands.

8. In addition to the serious problems faced by those exposed to DU during the Gulf War, there is a worldwide problem of the disposal of DU. These is an estimated billion pounds of DU tailings in the United States, and the United States Department of Energy is seeking opportunities to dispose of it. There are an estimated 30 million KGs DU tailings stored in Europe at URENCO plants. The United States Army Environmental Policy Institute (USAEPI) reports that the United Kingdom, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Thailand, Israel, France and other unspecified countries have developed or are developing DU weapons.

9. We urge the Special Rapporteur to investigate the situation of the use of DU in the Gulf War and its effect on human rights. We also urge the Rapporteur to monitor the situation of DU storage and transport.