05 September 2008

USA, backed by Denmark, works to legalise cluster bombs after ban agreed

Press Release by the Cluster Munition Coalition (Geneva, September 5, 2008) - After 107 countries earlier this year adopted a break-through ban on cluster bombs, the USA is now working to have a parallel legal instrument adopted which would effectively legalise continued use of cluster bombs.The United States refused to join the Oslo Process that led to the conclusion of the ban on cluster bombs in Dublin in May and which will be signed in Oslo 3 December, but is now pushing within the framework of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva for countries to agree on a second international legal instrument. “The draft text currently on the table in Geneva and being promoted by the USA explicitly allows cluster bombs to continue to be used and provides no effective safeguards for civilians. It is portrayed as an attempt at addressing the serious humanitarian impact that cluster bombs cause, but this is not credible. The proposed text mainly serves to legalise and legitimize cluster bombs again,” says Thomas Nash, coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC).“The USA is clearly so uncomfortable with the stigmatization that the Oslo Convention will have on these weapons that they need a parallel legal instrument that reduces this effect. In doing so they are creating a recipe for continued use of a problematic weapon also by other states that are reluctant to join the Oslo Convention”, says Grethe Østern of the mine clearing organization Norwegian People’s Aid and Co-Chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition. Denmark, which was one of the countries that adopted the Convention in Dublin, is now chairing the CCW process to create a parallel legal instrument. Danish officials argue that by supporting this new text they are helping to get Russia, China and the USA to agree to a higher standard of humanitarian protection. But the CMC argue that they are being manipulated.“Denmark is falling for the game being played by the USA and partly supported by Russia and China, whose main interest it is to continue using cluster bombs. They want other countries to sign a treaty saying it is OK for them to continue to do so, and that is exactly the result now of the actions of Denmark”, says Eva Veble, head of the mine action unit of Danish Church Aid and member of the steering committee of the CMC. The text currently being discussed in Geneva is so vague as to allow explosive submunitions that possess “any mechanism or design … to ensure the unexploded submunitions will no longer function as explosive submunitions.”  Campaigners argue that such vague terms will be meaningless in practice and that such an approach has already been completely rejected by the 107 States that adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions in May that bans these weapons outright. “At a time when Denmark should be condemning the use of cluster munitions in Georgia, instead we are helping countries like Russia to continue using the weapons under a fig-leaf of legality,” says Veble.For more information, please contact:In Geneva, Thomas Nash (English, French, Spanish): +44-771-1926-730 (mobile)In Copenhagen, Eva Veble (English): +45-296-99138Notes to Editors:What are cluster bombs?Cluster munitions are large weapons which are deployed from the air and from the ground and release up to hundreds of smaller submunitions. Submunitions released by airdropped cluster bombs are most often called "bomblets,"while those delivered from the ground by artillery or rockets are usually referred to as "grenades."What's the problem with this weapon?Air-dropped or ground-launched, they cause two major humanitarian problems and risks to civilians. First, their widespread dispersal means they cannot distinguish between military targets and civilians so the humanitarian impact can be extreme, especially when the weapon is used in or near populated areas. Many submunitions fail to detonate on impact and become de facto antipersonnel mines killing and maiming people long after the conflict has ended. These duds are more lethal than antipersonnel mines; incidents involving submunition duds are much more likely to cause death than injury.Who has used cluster munitions?At least 15 countries have used cluster munitions: Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Georgia, Israel, Morocco, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia (USSR), Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, UK, US, and FR Yugoslavia. A small number of non-state armed groups have used the weapon (such as Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006). Billions of submunitions are stockpiled by some 76 countries. A total of 34 states are known to have produced over 210 different types cluster munitions. More than two dozen countries have been affected by the use of cluster munitions including Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chad, Croatia, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Grenada, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Montenegro, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Uganda, and Vietnam, as well as Chechnya, Falkland/Malvinas, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Western Sahara.Why is a ban on cluster munitions necessary?Simply put, cluster munitions kill and injure too many civilians. The weapon caused more civilian casualties in Iraq in 2003 and Kosovo in 1999 than any other weapon system. Cluster munitions stand out as the weapon that poses the gravest dangers to civilians since antipersonnel mines, which were banned in 1997. Yet there is currently no provision in international law to specifically address problems caused by cluster munitions. Israel's massive use of the weapon in Lebanon in August 2006 resulted in more than 200 civilian casualties in the year following the ceasefire and served as the catalyst that has propelled governments to attempt to secure a legally-binding international instrument tackling cluster munitions in 2008.What is the Oslo Process?In February 2007, 46 governments met in Oslo to endorse a call by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre to conclude a new legally binding instrument in 2008 that prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians and provide adequate resources to assist survivors and clear contaminated areas. Subsequent International Oslo Process meetings were held in Peru (May 2007), Austria (December 2007), and New Zealand (February 2008). 107 countries negotiated and adopted a treaty that bans cluster bombs and provides assistance to affected communities in May 2008 in Dublin.States that adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions (107)Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, Chile, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Lesotho, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia (FYR), Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela and Zambia.