BELGRADE - October 2 – Countries experiencing first-hand the devastating impact of cluster munitions will meet in Belgrade on 3- 4 October to ensure that expectations of those who have suffered the most are central to the new international treaty to be negotiated banning these weapons. Twenty-three affected countries are expected to attend, as well as a number of other governments promoting the new treaty.
“The rights and needs of victims of cluster munitions must be at the heart of the new international treaty to ban these weapons,” said Thomas Nash, Coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), on the eve of the Belgrade Conference of States Affected by Cluster Munitions.
This initiative was launched by Serbia, which is still affected today by cluster munitions used during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign. Also a former user, producer and stockpiler of these weapons, Serbia announced that it is ‘an unwilling possessor of cluster munitions’.
Cluster munitions are known to have been used in at least 26 countries and five other areas, most recently in Lebanon and Israel (2006), Iraq (2003) and Afghanistan (2001-2002).
“We know what it means to live through cluster bomb attacks and the consequences of unexploded submunitions, we know the painstaking and dangerous work it takes to clear them, and we know the challenges of assisting those who survive an accident caused by cluster bombs,” said Branislav Kapetanovic, a Serbian clearance expert who lost both legs and arms in an accident while at work in 2000. “We want our governments to take the lead in the ban process to prevent other countries, and other innocent people, from suffering what we have suffered,” he added.
The list of participants in the Conference includes Laos, where the 30-year long experience with cluster contamination shows how the effects of these weapons can span entire generations; Lebanon, where Israel littered millions of submunitions throughout the south in the 2006 conflict; as well as the following countries: Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chad, DR Congo, Croatia, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Kuwait, Montenegro, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uganda, Vietnam and Yemen.
The meeting in Belgrade is part of the so-called Oslo Process, which was launched in the Norwegian capital last February and aims to conclude a treaty in 2008, Eighty countries are participating in the process thus far. The discussions in Belgrade will focus on victim assistance and clearance as well as international cooperation and assistance, which will be core elements of the new treaty.
“Negotiating a ban treaty is not all about technical issues and military interests. It is first and foremost about protecting human lives,” said Emil Jeremic, Regional Representative of Norwegian People’s Aid in South East Europe. “It is important that affected states take ownership of this process, which has a direct impact on the lives of their own citizens,” Jeremic added, calling on affected states still outside the ban process to join immediately.
Cluster munitions are weapons that can disperse up to several hundreds of smaller submunitions – sometimes referred to as “bomblets” - over wide areas. They have indiscriminate wide area effects that kill and injure civilians during attacks and they leave severe and lasting humanitarian and development consequences from large quantities of post-conflict unexploded ordnance.
The process to ban these weapons was launched last February in Oslo, Norway, where 46 countries committed to conclude, by 2008, a treaty banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. Following an international conference in Lima, Peru and a Latin American Conference in Costa Rica the number of countries participating in the Oslo Process rose to 80. The next international meeting to develop the treaty will be held in Vienna in December, then in New Zealand in February, with formal negotiations in Ireland in May 2008.
The following states and areas are affected by cluster munitions: Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chad, Chechnya, DR Congo, Croatia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Falkland Islands/Malvinas, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Israel, Kosovo, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Nagorno Karabakh, Montenegro, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Serbia, Syria, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uganda, Vietnam and Western Sahara. Other states such as Yemen are suspected of being affected. (States in bold participate in the Oslo Process.)
· At least 75 countries stockpile cluster munitions and 34 are known to have produced more than 210 types of cluster munitions. 14 states have used cluster munitions in at least 30 countries and territories.
· The CMC is an international network of over 200 civil society organisations in 50 countries committed to protecting civilians from the effects of cluster munitions. Members of the CMC network work together on an international campaign calling on governments to conclude a new international treaty banning cluster munitions by 2008. More information on the CMC is available online at http://www.stopclustermunitions.org.