Milić: Towards a fact-based discussion on depleted uranium

Jelena Milić; Foto: Tanjug / Dimitrije Goll

BELGRADE – The news of the formation of the Commission for establishing the consequences of NATO bombing has put the public discussion on health consequences of 1999 NATO intervention and the effects of depleted uranium 20 years afterwards back in focus.

The news of these issues are mostly reported by the tabloid newspaper with non-critical positions and headlines that claim that the use of this kind of ammunition has lead to “epidemic of cancer”, as well as daily newspaper Večernje novosti and Politika, which provide platform for the members of the Commission and several scientific analyses.

Director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) Jelena Milić stated that the work of state commission tasked with research into the possible consequences of the bombing has begun after the public debate on drafts of strategic documents in 2018, which introduced the construction “consequences of the war actions” which is related to 1999 NATO bombing.

“New drafts of Strategies (of Defence and National Security) were published in April 2018, while public discussion on them lasted until 15 May, while Serbian Assembly made the decision on forming the Commission for establishing consequences of 1999 NATO bombing on public health and environment. First preliminary report of the Commission should be expected only in 2020, and it remains unclear under which criteria have the consequences already been introduced to the draft of the Defence Strategy.

She assessed that it is better “now than never” to establish the possible consequences of the bombing, but added that its members have “disqualified themselves as the experts who should establish the objective truth” by coming forward with their already formed opinion and using the explicit speech and terminology.

Milić identifies the media as the biggest problem in formation of the narrative on harmfulness of depleted uranium. They have begun “accusing” the ammunition for each potential health problem, and are utilising “fake news” in order to form public opinion, she added.

“Fake news is, for example, that Italy admitted harmful consequences of depleted uranium. The findings of their parliamentary commissions have been disputed by the experts, who have stated that the data had been falsely quoted. Ministry of Defence of Italy, as far as I know, has not accepted a single finding of the parliamentarians”, said Milić.

She stated that this security issue, as well as any other, does not “run away” from politics, but that domestic scientific institutions, such as Institute for public health, Ministry of education, chambers of doctors have to defend their credibility by checking the methodology and the results of reports that are yet to be written.

According to her assessment, NATO should take a more explicit approach to media reporting in Serbia on the subject of depleted uranium.

NATO General Secretary from October 1999 to the beginning of 2004, George Robertson, immediately after taking over the function formed a committee for the issues related to depleted uranium, which was, inter alia, tasked with exchanging information between the interested countries. It also published a map of places in which depleted uranium ammunition had been used.