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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Cluster Bombs - The Future?

19 May, 2008
Now that there's a ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines, the new call is for a worldwide ban on the production and use of cluster bombs because of their 'indiscriminate wide-area effect'. The recent press release from the Cluster Munition Coalition follows.
Dublin, Ireland, May 19th, 2008 - Civil society representatives and cluster bomb survivors from around the world today called on governments to support a comprehensive ban on cluster bombs, without exceptions. The call came as more than 100 governments began two weeks of final negotiations in Dublin, Ireland, on a new international treaty to ban cluster bombs. Certain states seek to weaken the treaty.

Civil society representatives and survivors expect this to be the most significant humanitarian and disarmament treaty since the ban on antipersonnel landmines over a decade ago. "We are confident that governments will make the right decision and adopt a ban with no exceptions, no loopholes and no delays. This is what is needed to do justice to the victims of this weapon and to stop the maiming and killing of generations to come’ said Thomas Nash, coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC).

Cluster munitions are weapons that open in mid-air and randomly scatter dozens or hundreds of individual submunitions (or "bomblets’) over a large area. Countries are agreeing to ban them because they kill and injure too many civilians both during attacks–because of their indiscriminate wide-area effect–and long after attacks–because so many fail to explode on impact but remain dangerous, functioning like antipersonnel mines.

The draft treaty prohibits the use, production, and trade of cluster munitions, and establishes a deadline for the destruction of all existing stocks of the weapon. But it also goes far beyond the ban by requiring the clearance of contaminated areas–with a deadline–as well as specific legal obligations for states to ensure survivors and their communities are supported and cared for.

Branislav Kapetanovic, a former deminer and cluster bomb survivor from Serbia, who lost both his arms and legs said: "These deadly weapons destroy lives and communities for years after use. The treaty obliges states to provide badly needed humanitarian assistance so that survivors like me can live with dignity.

’The treaty process was launched in Oslo, Norway in February 2007 when 46 nation agreed to conclude a treaty prohibiting cluster munitions "that cause unacceptable harm to civilians’ in 2008. The treaty text was developed during international meetings in Peru, Austria, and New Zealand, with more than 140 countries taking part in at least part of the process.

"Governments have been talking about the dangers of cluster bombs for years. More delays mean more injuries and death for ordinary people. We have a unique opportunity to ban cluster bombs in Dublin - it is now or never,’ said Grethe ěstern, Norwegian People's Aid and co-chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition. There will likely be three main areas of contention during the negotiations.

First, some states–most notably Denmark, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom–are seeking blanket exceptions from the ban for certain cluster munitions in their own arsenals, claiming they are still needed militarily and that they will not cause as much harm as other cluster munitions.

Second, some are seeking a "transition period’ of some seven to fifteen years during which they would still be able to use banned cluster munitions, claiming that they cannot give up the weapons–which they acknowledge cause unacceptable harm to civilians–until they have developed military alternatives. The strongest calls for a transition period are likely to come from France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Third, some are seeking to delete or weaken a provision in the treaty that prohibits States Parties from assisting with the use of cluster munitions by others during joint military operations. Those most vocal on the "interoperability’ issue include Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The United States has been pressuring many of its allies on this matter.

The negotiating countries include most of the world’s users, producers and stockpilers of cluster munitions. Among the notable no-shows are the United States, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Israel, all of which are major producers and stockpilers of cluster munitions. Of these, US, Russia and Israel have used cluster munitions.


"It is regrettable that the US and a handful of other states insist on their need to use a weapon that the rest of world is banning because it causes unacceptable harm to civilians,’ said Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch and co-chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition. "But we believe a strong new treaty will stigmatise cluster munitions to such a degree that it will be difficult for any country to use them and suffer the loud chorus of international condemnation.’

Banning an entire class of weapon will have an effect well beyond the signatories of the treaty. The stigmatisation of this weapon will extend to all countries stockpiling and using them. Despite the fact that the US, Russia and China did not sign the treaty banning antipersonnel landmines in 1997, there has since been little production, trade or use of the weapon anywhere in the world by governments.

The negotiations are scheduled to conclude on Friday, May 30, when the participating states will adopt the final text of the treaty; no further changes can be made after that point. The treaty will then be opened for signature to all countries–even those not present during the negotiations–in Oslo, Norway on December 2-3, 2008. After signing the treaty, countries still need to ratify it, usually through legislative approval, before it becomes fully legally binding.
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