172. The use of Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions by
US forces during the NATO bombing campaign over Kosovo has caused
controversy, following recent media claims that exposure to DU
may have led to the death from cancer of a number of NATO troops.
There are also fears in the region that DU may result in health
problems for the local population. The Yugoslav government has
alleged that the use of DU by NATO constituted a war crime and
has called on the ICTY to investigate.
173. Depleted Uranium is widely recognised as a hazardous
material due to its chemical toxicity and low-level radioactivity,
although opinion is split as to whether it poses a significant
environmental and health risk. Since the end of the Kosovo conflict,
several international bodiesincluding the Balkan Task Force
(BTF) of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP)have conducted
studies into the impact of DU munitions on the region. NATO has
also carried out its own investigations into the issue.
174. The evidence collated thus far has not established
a link between the use of depleted uranium and health and environmental
damage. A UNEP report on DU in Kosovo, published on 13 March,
found no widespread contamination in the areas investigated. As
a consequence, UNEP Executive Director Klaus Töpfer concluded
that: "These scientific findings should alleviate any immediate
anxiety that people living or working in Kosovo may have been
Nonetheless, the report recommends that further investigation
should be conducted into the longer-term effect of DU on the environment.
Pekka Haavisto, Chairman of the UNEP's Depleted Uranium Assessment
Team, warned that: "There are still considerable scientific
uncertainties, especially related to the safety of groundwater,"
adding that: "Additional work has to be done to reduce these
uncertainties and to monitor the quality of water."
The UNEP has therefore recommended that further scientific work
be carried out in Bosnia where DU ordnance has persisted in the
environment for over five years.
175. In evidence to us, the FCO implied that NATO
had co-operated fully and promptly with the BTF investigations,
stating that: "NATO has released full details of depleted
uranium use during the Kosovo conflict". Other sources, however,
have suggested that this was not the case. A preliminary report
on DU by the BTF in September 1999 criticised the "lack of
official confirmation from NATO that depleted uranium has, or
has not, been used".
NATO then supplied further information in February 2000, although
the BTF again concluded the information was of insufficient detail
to warrant a fact-finding visit to the region. In mid-2000 NATO
finally provided the UN with information on the exact co-ordinates
of the target sites where DU had been used, allowing the BTF to
carry out a full programme of testing. There has also been considerable
delay by NATO in fulfilling the recommendation made in the BTF
report that contaminated sites should be cordoned off and local
people informed of the risks. General Sir Hugh Beach, for the
International Security Information Service (ISIS), wrote in January
2001: "It is quite inexcusable that eighteen months should
have elapsed after the end of the Kosovo war before the UN and
NATO arranged for sites where DU debris was known to exist to
be marked and cordoned off, and due warning given to the locals."
176. We welcome the recent decision to demarcate
all DU sites in Kosovo and to advise the local population of the
potential dangers. However, it is important to recognise that
with emotive issues such as this, perceptions are as important
as the facts. Misha Glenny highlighted what appears to be a common
view in the region: "The depleted uranium scandal only assumed
serious proportions when Britain and America's allies feared that
their soldiers may have sickened as a consequence of the deployment
of these weapons. The fate of Albanians and Serbs exposed to the
possible harmful effects of DU has never been an issue. It is
not just the Serbs who believe that their region is the object
of arrogant western policies. This feeling is widespread throughout
the region (it has become especially acute among the Albanians
of Kosovo recently)."
We also noted during our visit to the region that the DU issue
has become a useful rhetorical device for the Yugoslav government
to counter pressure from the West on the ICTY, although this should
not obscure the fact that there are legitimate concerns that need
to be addressed.
177. The NATO Parliamentary assembly has called for
further research into the use of DU,
and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for funding
of $2 million in order to pursue epidemiological studies on the
impact of DU.
This study offers an opportunity to resolve the scientific questions
surrounding the use of DU in as far as it is possible to do so.
It is to be hoped that the WHO will be seen by those concerned
about DU as an organisation which does not a vested interest in
resolving the issue one way or another. We recommend that the
Government press NATO to cooperate fully with the proposed WHO
study into depleted uranium, and that the Government give serious
consideration to the possibility of providing funding for the
Ministerial oversight of FCO
178. While there are many creditable aspects of United
Kingdom policy, some of which we have identified above, we have
in the course of our inquiry detected a worrying lack of ministerial
oversight of policy in the Balkans. The Secretary of State has
not visited Yugoslavia, and has no immediate plans to do so.
We find it deeply regrettable that Mr Vaz, the FCO minister responsible
for south-east Europe, has not visited the area either. His evidence
session with us did not reveal a detailed grasp of the policy
issues which the area faces. As the Minister told us, and we know
ourselves, the situation in the Balkans is "very complex
and very difficult".
Visiting the region puts this situation into context. Chris Patten
told us that he "was in Kosovo last year six or seven times.
I am not going to the Balkans quite as frequently this year, but
last year I was going to the Balkans pretty well every month."
We of course understand that Mr Vaz has considerable responsibilities
other than south-east Europeas does Mr Patten. Since the
revolution in Belgrade, only one junior trade Minister, Mr Caborn,
has visited the area. We are concerned that there is inadequate
FCO ministerial oversight of an area where considerable United
Kingdom financial resources and personnel are committed and which
has great relevance to the future stability of Europe, and where
a window of opportunity exists to effect real change. We recommend
that an FCO Minister visit the area urgently, and thereafter should
visit on a more frequent basis.
335 See paras. 74ff. Back
BBC News website, 23 February 2001. Back
NATO Press Release (2001) 032, 2 March 2001. Back
For example, http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/europe/newsid_1207000/1207327.stm. Back
Agence France Presse, 8 March 2001. Back
Financial Times, 2 March 2001. Back
The Bosnian-Croat national assembly voted on 19 March to postpone
the deadline for the establishment of self-rule by two months
so as to allow further negotiations with the international community.
See http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/europe/newsid_1228000/1228797.stm. Back
Financial Times, 8 March 2001. Back
Bosnia: Dayton in Danger?, Transitions Online, 5-11 March
Financial Times, 2 March 2001. Back
An estimated 31,000 rounds or 9 tons of DU were used during the
course of the Kosovo campaign-compared with over 300 tons of DU
fired by coalition forces during the 1991 Gulf Conflict. Back
See for example, the interview with President Kostunica in La
Stampa, 22 January 2001, from BBC Monitoring. Back
See for example, HC Deb 9 January 2001, c877. Back
Depleted Uranium in Kosovo-Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment,
Report by the UNEP, available at http://balkans.unep.ch/du/reports/report.html. Back
UNEP Press Release, 13 March 2001. Back
Ev. p.39. Back
The potential effects on human health and the environment arising
from possible use of depleted uranium during the 1999 Kosovo conflict:
A preliminary assessment, UNEP/UNCHS Balkans Task Force (BTF),
October 1999, from http://balkans.unep.ch/_files/du_final_report.pdf Back
General Sir Hugh Beach, The Military Hazards of Depleted Uranium,
ISIS Briefing Paper No.78, January 2001. Back
Ev. p.5. Back
GEN (01) 6, Depleted Uranium, February 2001. Back
HC Deb 26 February 2001, Col. 458W. Back