Since their first use during the Gulf War by the US and the UK, Depleted Uranium Weapons (DU) have been deployed as well in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo, and again in the war in Iraq by the US and the UK in 2003. There is also a suspicion that the US used DU in Afghanistan in 2001, however this is denied by the government. DU is mostly used in armour piercing munitions because of its very high density but as it is toxic and radioactive, it produces an oxide dust while burning. This dust can be inhaled and retained by the lungs which leads to uranium deposits in the lymph nodes, bones, brain and testes. A sharp increase in breast cancers and lymphoma as well as birth defects has been observed in the countries in which DU has been used.
To this date, there is no treaty regulating DU weapons. The treaties on biological and chemical weapons as well as the 1925 Geneva Gas Protocol are not relevant as the toxic effect of DU is secondary, unlike the other weapons banned by these treaties where it is the primary character. The DU weapons must therefore be banned explicitly.
Yet, International Humanitarian Law prohibits weapons that cause unnecessary suffering, have indiscriminate effects or cause long-term damage to the natural environment and therefore theoretically should apply fully to the use of DU weapons. In this spirit, several UNGA resolutions about the harmful character of DU have been adopted but do not constitute treaty law.
For these reasons and precautionary obligations, States should uphold a moratorium phase and refrain from using DU weapons. More scientific studies should be made and a treaty process should be launched leading to a total ban on these weapons.
International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW)
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)