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Speedy Ratification of the Treaty Banning Cluster Weapons
an article by Rene Wadlow, Representative of the Association of World Citzens to the United Nations, Geneva

In a remarkable combination of civil society pressure and leadership from a small number of progressive States, a strong ban on the use, manufacture, and stocking of cluster bombs was signed in Oslo, Norway on 3 December 2008. However, all bright sunlight casts a dark shadow, and in this case the shadow is the fact that the major makers and users of cluster munitions were deliberately not there: Brazil, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, USA.

Yet as arms negotiations go, the cluster bomb ban has been swift. They began in Oslo, Norway in February 2007 and were thus often called the “Oslo Process.” The negotiations were a justified reaction to their wide use by Israel in Lebanon during the July-August 2006 conflict. The UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) working in southern Lebanon reported that their density there is higher than in Kosovo and Iraq, especially in built up areas, posing a constant threat to hundreds of thousands of people, as well as to UN peacemakers. It is estimated that one million cluster bombs were fired on south Lebanon during the 34 days of war, many during the last two days of war when a ceasefire was a real possibility. The Hezbollah militia also shot off rockets with cluster bombs into northern Israel.

[See Discussion for further details on deadly effects of cluster bombs, as well as their use in Vietnam, Laos, Kosovo and more recently in Georgia]]

The indiscriminate impact of cluster bombs was raised in 1979 with the support of the Swedish government by the representative of the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva and myself. My NGO text of August 1979 for the citizens of the world on “Anti-Personnel Fragmentation Weapons” called for a ban based on the 1868 St Petersburg Declaration and recommended that “permanent verification and dispute-settlement procedures be established which may investigate all charges of the use of prohibited weapons whether in inter-State or internal conflicts, and that such a permanent body include a consultative committee of experts who could begin their work without a prior resolution of the UN Security Council.”

States signed the treaty on 3 December in Oslo where the negotiations began. If the momentum can be kept up, parliaments should ratify the treaty quickly, and it could come into force by mid-2009. It is important for supporters to contact members of parliament indicating approval of the ban and asking for swift ratification. A more difficult task will be to convince those States addicted to cluster bombs— the Outlaw Seven: Brazil, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, USA. The ban may discourage their use by these States and the USA has a recent export ban on the sale of most cluster weapons, but a signature by them would be an important sign of respect for international agreements and world law. Pressure must be kept up for speedy ratification and for signature on those States outside the law.


Question(s) related to this article:

What have been the effects of cluster bombs?,

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Additional text from the article by Rene Wadlow, Speedy Ratification of the Treaty Banning Cluster Weapons:

Cluster munitions are warheads that scatter scores of smaller bombs.  Many of these sub-munitions fail to detonate on impact, leaving them scattered on the ground, ready to kill and maim when disturbed or handled.  Reports from humanitarian organizations and mine-clearing groups have shown that civilians make up the vast majority of the victims of cluster bombs, especially children attracted by their small size and often bright colors.

The failure rate of cluster munitions is high, ranging from 30 to 80 per cent. But “failure” may be the wrong word.  They may, in fact, be designed to kill later.  The large number of unexploded cluster bombs means that farm lands and forests cannot be used or used with great danger.  Most people killed and wounded by cluster bombs in the 21 conflicts where they have been used are civilians, often young.  Such persons often suffer severe injuries such as loss of limbs and loss of sight. . ...more.

This report was posted on December 3, 2008.