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The use of depleted uranium ammunition under contemporary international law: is there a need for a treaty-based ban on DU weapons?

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This article examines whether the use of Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions can be considered illegal under current public international law. The analysis covers the law of arms control and focuses in particular on international humanitarian law. The article argues that DU ammunition cannot be addressed adequately under existing treaty based weapon bans, such as the Chemical Weapons Convention, due to the fact that DU does not meet the criteria required to trigger the applicability of those treaties. Furthermore, it is argued that continuing uncertainties regarding the effects of DU munitions impedes a reliable review of the legality of their use under various principles of international law, including the prohibition on employing indiscriminate weapons; the prohibition on weapons that are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment; and the prohibition on causing unnecessary suffering or superfluous injury. All of these principles require complete knowledge of the effects of the weapon in question. Nevertheless, the author argues that the same uncertainty places restrictions on the use of DU under the precautionary principle. The paper concludes with an examination of whether or not there is a need for - and if so whether there is a possibility of achieving - a Convention that comprehensively outlaws the use, transfer and stockpiling of DU weapons, as proposed by some non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
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Keywords: adverse effects of depleted uranium; depleted uranium ammunition; international humanitarian law; law of armed conflict; precautionary principle; principle of distinction; principle of proportionality; prohibition to cause unnecessary suffering and superfluous injury

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: German Red Cross, Berlin, Germany

Publication date: 2010-10-01

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