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International law clears peace activists

In October a US jury found 19 peace activists not guilty after their trial for trespassing at a depleted uranium weapon maker's headquarters.

On 2 April 2003, 28 activists walked into AllianceTech System's Edina office to deliver a letter to CEO, Paul David Miller, urging the company to take responsibility for the damages caused by depleted uranium to protest against the use of radioactive waste in weapons' production.

A higher power?

In a rare case where an international law defence was listened to and then worked in favour of peace activists, the trespassers, who had entered without invitation the head office of Alliance TechSystems Corporations (ATK) in Edina (Minnesota), were cleared of charges of violating Minnesota's private property and trespass laws because the judge determined that international law prohibiting the use of depleted uranium overrode local legislation.

During their October trial the defendants claimed that under the US Constitution, International Treaties signed by the government become “supreme law of the land”. Putting forward the Geneva Convention and the Nuremberg Tribunal, they argued that ATK's manufacture of depleted uranium penetrator munitions was a crime against humanity as the radioactive waste cannot discriminate between combatants and civilians and that their use continued to cause harm long after a conflict has ended.

Human cost

The defendants expressed serious concerns over the growing number of leukaemia cases and deformed babies being born in Iraq and from US soldiers after the first Gulf War in 1991 - when an estimated 320 tons of depleted uranium was dropped over the country. They also testified that ATK's weapons had been used during the second Gulf War. ATK produces depleted uranium penetrator munitions containing U238, a radioactive substance that has a lifetime of 4.5 billion years.

One of the most poignant testimonies was Wendi Nauheimer's, she told the court about her brother Patrick - a former US marine - who died of leukaemia after being exposed to depleted uranium during cleanup operations in Kuwait and Iraq after the first Gulf War.