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Activists urge nations to strengthen global cluster bomb treaty

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John Vizcaino/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A soldier from a bomb disposal unit inspects a dismantled cluster bomb at a military base in Marandua, Colombia. Colombia's army claims it destroyed its last 41 cluster bombs in accordance with the Oslo Pact in 2009. The disarmament group Cluster Munition Coalition works to rid the world of cluster bombs, which result in at least 17,000 casualties each year, more than 90 percent of them civilians.

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Some 30 countries taking part in a convention in Oslo, Norway, this week, are being encouraged by activists and government officials to join a treaty banning the use of cluster munitions and help halt their harmful impact on civilians, the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) said.

More than 100 governments are at the summit in the Norwegian capital.

A total of 111 countries have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in 2008 and entered into force in 2010, but superpowers Russia, China, and the United States are among those that have not, Laura Cheeseman, the director of the disarmament group CMC said.

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The convention prohibits the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions. It also requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of the weapons, and victim assistance. Among the convention’s signatories, 75 countries are legally bound by its provisions, and ratification is under way in most of the remaining 36 countries.

"We’ve got half the world on board, but there are a number of countries that remain outside the ban,” Cheeseman told AlertNet from the conference. “There’s really no good reason for any of these countries not to come on board and to sign up to the convention.”

The weapons consist of small bomblets that open and explode across a wide area when they are launched from the ground or dropped from the air.

“These weapons harm civilians both at the time of use because of their wide area effect – but they also fail to go off on impact a lot of the time, so they lie on the ground deadly and active for years – sometimes for decades – after a conflict has ended,” Cheeseman said.

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More than 17,000 cluster munition casualties were reported globally in 2011, according to the coalition, which is made up of more than 350 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The group estimated in a recent report that the true number of casualties might be between 20,000 and 54,000.

Civilians accounted for 94 percent of casualties. Of these, 83 percent were male and 40 percent were children, the report said.

Almost 745,000 cluster bombs containing almost 86 million bomblets have been destroyed since the convention came into force in 2010, the report said.

Unconfirmed reports that the weapons are being used in wars in Syria and Sudan have not been verified by the coalition, but are credible, Cheeseman said.

“What we want is for these countries to look into these reports of cluster munitions use and make sure they never use the weapon again,” she added. “We want them to work to join the convention.”

Also under discussion at the convention is how national legislation required by signatory countries that have yet to ratify the treaty could undermine its original intent.

Article 21 of the convention says that signatories may engage in joint military operations with governments who are not legally bound by the treaty.

The spotlight is on Australia and Canada, two countries setting out legislation that cites occasions when they might be able to take part to help in joint military operations where cluster munitions are being used, Cheeseman said.

The proposed Canadian legislation, which could be completed within six months, goes against the letter and the spirit of the law, Paul Hannon, the executive director of Mines Action Canada who also sits on the CMC advisory board, told AlertNet.

"Our view is that this is a great treaty, and it bans cluster munitions for all time, and that means no Canadian should ever be involved in use of cluster munitions for anyone, in any place, at any time, for any reason,” Hannon said from Oslo.

Campaigners were unsuccessful in their fight to change the Australian legislation, which was ratified in its parliament in August, but has not yet been passed into law.

“The Australian [CMC] campaign fought for two years to get the legislation changed, so the government knows there’s a huge stigma against not only the weapon, but on the possibility of the Australian government being involved in its use,” Hannon said.

“I’m hoping the Canadian government has been paying attention to that as well and is more open to making changes and amending our legislation," he added.

Several countries that have signed but not yet ratified the convention, including Benin, Chad, Jamaica, and Peru, announced at the summit that they would do so in the near future, according to CMC.

This article originally appeared at AlertNet, a humanitarian news site operated by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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