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Australia proves a soft touch at UN over toxic warfare

  • 03 December 2012

The Federal Government has already breached its recently announced 'Australian Agenda' at the UN, succumbing to US pressure to abstain from a vote on depleted uranium weapons that would strengthen civilian protections.

At the UN First Committee vote held earlier this month, which will be ratified by the General assembly this week, 138 nations voted in favour of the resolution seeking greater transparency and a precautionary approach in the use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons, known to be radioactive and chemically toxic. Four nations, the US, France, Israel and the UK, all users of DU weapons, voted against the resolution and pressured other nations.(Continues below)


Australia abstained, isolating itself from the majority of nations and blatantly breaching the admirable 'Australian agenda' which emphasises arms control, nuclear non-proliferation and women's rights. This leaves Australia in an awkward position ahead of taking up its temporary position in the UN Security Council.


The resolution put forward a non-threatening, commonsense approach that aims to provide better protection to civilians left to deal with the toxic legacy of weapons. A significant majority of states accept that precaution is justified and recognise the need for post-conflict measures to protect civilian health.

Depleted uranium, used in conventional weapons for its  armour piercing capabilities, presents a clear risk to human health and the environment, the greatest victims being women, children and the unborn; as well as entire communities struggling to utilise land for agriculture in a toxic eco-system.

An estimated 400,000kg of depleted uranium has been dispersed in Iraq since 1991. The long-term impact on civilians is unknown, but several studies have linked it to a dramatic rise in birth defects in Basra and Fallujah.

On a recent visit to Iraq I spent a week in Fallujah Hospital. Each day I met babies with birth defects, including a new-born with a bloodied, fleshy hole in her back — a classic case of spina bifida, a common occurrence now along with brain dysfunction, spinal conditions, unformed limbs and cleft palet.

Another day I walked through Fallujah cemetery which is littered with small, unmarked graves for babies, and stood with Marwan and Bashir, a young, healthy couple, at the grave of their baby Mohamed, who lived five minutes after birth. He was their fourth baby to die.