Poisonous Uranium Munitions Threaten World

The use of weapons containing uranium violates existing laws and customs of war and “constitutes a war crime or crime against humanity,” according to a leading U.S. expert on humanitarian law.

Karen Parker, a San Francisco-based expert in armed conflict law, told American Free Press that the use of radioactive uranium weapons violates the Hague and Geneva Conventions as well as the Conventional Weapons Convention of 1980.

Although no treaty specifically bans DU weapons, they are illegal “de facto and de jure,” Parker said. However, a class action lawsuit by victims of DU weapons will probably be required for a court to ban their use, she said.


“A weapon made illegal only because there is a specific treaty banning it is only illegal for countries that ratify such a treaty,” Parker wrote in a paper, “The Illegality of DU Weaponry,” presented at the International Uranium Weapons Conference in Hamburg, Germany last October. However, “a weapon that is illegal by operation of existing law is illegal for all countries.”

Parker, a delegate to the UN Commission on Human Rights since 1982, provides legal advice to the UN on DU weapons and other matters of humanitarian law.

“DU weaponry cannot possibly be legal in light of existing law,” Parker said.

“In evaluating whether a particular weapon is legal or illegal when there is not a specific treaty, the whole of humanitarian law must be consulted,” Parker wrote.

According to humanitarian law, the illegality of DU weapons is based on four criteria:

The first is the “territorial” test. Weapons may only be used in the legal field of battle. Weapons may not have an adverse effect off the legal field of battle.

The second is the “temporal” test, meaning that weapons may only be used for the duration of an armed conflict. A weapon that continues to act after the war violates this criterion.

The territorial and temporal criteria are meant to prevent weapons from being “indiscriminate” in their effect.

The third rule is that a weapon cannot be unduly inhumane. The Hague Convention of 1907 prohibits “poison or poisoned weapons.” Because DU weapons are radioactive and chemically toxic, as the military knows, they fit the definition of poisonous weapons banned under the Hague Convention.


The Defense Department is well aware of the toxic effects of DU. In an official presentation by U.S. Army Reserve Col. J. Edgar Wakayama at Fort Belvoir, Va. on Aug. 20, 2002, the dangers of exposure to DU were clearly spelled out:

“Inhalation exposure has a major effect on the lungs and thoracic lymph nodes,” Wakayama read from a slide. “The alpha particle taken inside the body in large doses is hazardous, producing cell damage and cancer. Lung cancer is well documented,” he noted.

“Urine samples containing uranium are mutagenic [capable of producing mutation]” and “the cultured human stem bone cell line with DU also transformed the cells to become carcinogenic,” Wakayama read.

DU deposited in the bone causes DNA damage because of the effects of the alpha particles, Wakayama stressed. One gram of DU emits 12,000 high-energy alpha particles per second.

The fourth rule for weapons, the “environmental” test, says that weapons cannot have an unduly negative effect on the natural environment.

Wakayama advised, “Heavily contaminated soil should be removed if the area is to be populated with civilians.”

Wakayama described the dangers to children playing in contaminated soil and the leaching of DU into local water and food supplies.


DU weaponry fails all four tests, Parker says. Because it cannot be contained to the battlefield, it fails the territorial test. Airborne DU particles are carried far from the battlefield affecting distant civilian populations and neighboring countries.

Because the uranium dispersed on the ground and in the air cannot be “turned off” when the war is over, DU fails the temporal test.

“The airborne particles have a half-life of billions of years and have the potential to keep killing . . . long after the war is over,” Parker wrote.

“The status of DU as nuclear, radiological, poison or conventional does not change its illegality. When the weapons test is applied to DU weaponry, it fails,” she concluded.

DU weapons fail the humaneness test because of how they kill, Parker says, “by cancer, kidney disease etc, long after the hostilities are over.

“DU is inhumane because it can cause birth defects such as cranial facial anomalies, missing limbs, grossly deformed and non-viable infants and the like, thus affecting children . . . born after the war is over,” Parker said.

“The teratogenic [interfering with normal embryonic development] nature of DU weapons and the possible burdening of the gene pool of future generations raise the possibility that the use of DU weaponry is genocide,” she wrote. “Willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health” of civilians constitutes a grave breach of the fourth Geneva Convention, and this is “exactly what DU weapons do.”

Finally, because DU weapons cannot be used without unduly damaging the natural environment, they fail the fourth rule for weapons, the environmental test.

“No available technology can significantly change the chemical and radiological toxicity of DU,” the Army Environmental Policy Institute reported to Congress in 1994. “These are intrinsic properties of uranium.”

“Regarding environmental damages, users of these weapons are obligated to carry out an effective cleanup,” Parker wrote. “The cost of legal claims and environmental cleanup for the gulf wars alone could be staggering.”

“Use of DU weaponry necessarily violates the ‘grave breach’ provision of the Geneva Conventions, and hence its use constitutes a war crime or crime against humanity,” Parker concluded.

Questions regarding the legality of DU weapons were sent in writing to the Pentagon’s appointed spokesman on DU matters, James Turner.

Turner told AFP that he was “not qualified” to answer such questions.

By press time the Pentagon had not responded to repeated requests for information.