A Conference on Banning Depleted Uranium

Central America’s tumultuous history provides many opportunities for raising awareness about human rights and social justice. The Friends Peace Center, a small nonprofit organization in Costa Rica, was founded in 1983 by a group of Quakers and Latin American human rights activists looking for constructive methods of promoting peace. Throughout its existence, the Peace Center has maintained a close connection with the Costa Rican Quaker community and has adhered to the community’s goals. This year we are celebrating our 25th anniversary.

Our main goal is to promote human rights and peace through the practices of active nonviolence and peace education. Over the past year, we have held workshops and forums on human rights focusing on marginalized groups such as the Nicaraguan immigrant community, supporting indigenous rights, coordinating with environmental organizations, and training various women’s groups about their legal rights. Other programs the center promotes include an urban renovation project, painting murals in central San José on the themes of peace and equality, participating in a recycling program, and partnering with other organizations to create a bike path through the city.

Through our history of projects, we have established and maintained relationships with various national and international human rights organizations, and we promote the general cause of peace through networking and mutual support. We also provide a meeting place for various local organizations, including the weekly San José Quaker meeting. Over the years, we have become a resource for information and training on nonviolent techniques as an alternative to resolving conflicts, and a place of community among our mix of Costa Rican and U.S. members.

Currently, we are collaborating with the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) to work towards an international ban. Depleted uranium (DU) is a cheap byproduct of uranium refineries and nu- clear power plants that makes military weapons more effective. For the past two decades, the United States, United Kingdom, and other governments have used DU in military operations. Weapons containing DU were de-ployed in Iraq and Kuwait during the Gulf War of 1991, in Kosovo during the conflict of 1999, and currently in the Iraq War. These arms have also illegally found their way into the hands of international weapons traders.

DU’s long-term effects are devastating for both the people and the environment in the impacted areas. It has chemical and radiological toxicity that targets the kidneys and lungs, causes severe birth defects, and greatly increases the incidence of cancer and other related diseases among those affected. Worse yet, soldiers and civilians working and living in the affected areas are not informed of the risks.

In March 2009, ICBUW and Friends Peace Center will be hosting their yearly conference in San José, Costa Rica. As the only Latin American organization that is currently a member of ICBUW, the center will be coordinating this event. The coalition’s objective is to ban the use of depleted uranium weapons at the United Nations by 2010, and the goal of the conference is to raise awareness about the use and effects of depleted uranium throughout the international community with an emphasis in Latin America. The goal of Friends Peace Center is to bring at least one representative from each country and provide them with written and visual information in Spanish about DU, which we have been producing.

To learn more about ICBUW and depleted uranium, or find out more about Friends Peace Center and its other current projects, please call the organization’s director, Isabel Macdonald, at (506) 2222-14-00 or (506) 2233-61-68, or e-mail her at ducongress@amigosparalapaz.org.

Candace Andrews-Powley

Candace Andrews-Powley is a volunteer at Friends Peace Center in San José, Costa Rica, and a recent graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland.