Toxic Remnants of War Project
Today saw the launch of a new research project to ‘explore state responsibility for the toxic legacy of military activity’. The Toxic Remnants of War Project will provide a hub of information resources analysing the humanitarian and environmental impact of the release of toxic and hazardous materials during conflict.
UWN welcomes such a valuable resource and hopes that by highlighting the disastrous consequences that toxic munitions continue to have upon states and their populations both during and following armed conflict. It is very early days for the project but could the approach eventually find parallels with Explosive Remnants of War (ERW)?
The process to manage and restrict the concept of ERW drew attention to the devastating impact that unexploded ordnance such as landmines, cluster munitions and IED’s had on civilian populations trying to rebuild their lives after war. In doing so campaigners gained amazing public support which led to landmines being banned by the Ottawa Treaty.
Efforts to restrict ERW have now led to the adoption of two further instruments of international law. In 2003, Protocol V was added to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons 1980, which created an obligation for states to remove and destroy ERW. Protocol V also introduced a special responsibility to protect civilians on states which used them. The Convention on Cluster Munitions banned the use, manufacture and acquisition of cluster bombs by all state parties.
Toxic contamination and the damage it causes is not always as visible as ERW, meaning that it is sometimes a forgotten consequence of armed conflict. Who knows what the long term impact of materials such as depleted uranium are having on the environment in contaminated areas and the health of those living there.
Some work has been done to legislate against the use of certain toxic weapons with the adoption of the Environment Modification Convention (ENMOD). This treaty came about following the uproar surrounding the use of the dioxin based defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam but unfortunately it only covers weapons or chemicals that intentionally modify the environment, as opposed to munitions or activities where the environmental damage is secondary to its original intention, such as depleted uranium.
The serious public health issues occurring in Fallujah stress the need for research to be done into the long term effects that various munitions have on the local environment. Fallujah has seen a well above average rise in the number congenital birth defects, miscarriages and cancer rates. Whilst there is no conclusive proof, there is a strong possibility that it is a consequence of the military activity in the city.
UWN hopes that by bringing a focus on to these issues, the TRW Project will highlight the harmful effects that military operations and munitions can have and place the responsibility of decontamination at the door of states which use them. We further hope that this will serve to strengthen obligations on states to carry out environmental and public health impact assessments before weapons are used.
We are confident that such an important source of information will prove to be an excellent tool to help not only our campaign against depleted uranium but the use of many other toxic weapons.
More information on TRW can be found on their website http://www.toxicremnantsofwar.info/