US Out of Step on Cluster Bomb Ban

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US Out of Step on Cluster Bomb Ban

New Report Charts Changing Global Opinion Against the Weapon

GENEVA - The prohibition on cluster munitions is firmly taking hold as more
countries join the new treaty banning the weapon and hold-out states
shift their policies in the right direction, says a report jointly
released today by Human Rights Watch, Landmine Action, and Landmine
Monitor.

The 288-page report, "Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice,"
contains entries on 150 countries. It documents a major shift in global
opinion about cluster munitions in recent years, with numerous former
users, producers, exporters, and stockpilers of the weapon now
denouncing it because of the humanitarian harm it causes. The shift
resulted in the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits
use, production, and transfer of cluster munitions, requires
destruction of stockpiles in eight years and clearance of affected
areas in 10 years, and establishes a strong framework for assistance to
victims of the weapon.

"In the span of just a few years, many nations have gone from
insisting that cluster munitions are wonder weapons vital to their
national defense to proclaiming that cluster munitions must never be
used again," said Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights
Watch and final editor of the report.

Cluster munitions can be fired by artillery and rocket systems or
dropped by aircraft. They typically explode in the air and send dozens,
even hundreds, of tiny submunitions or bomblets over an area the size
of a football field. These often fail to explode on impact, acting like
landmines and posing a danger to civilians for years.

Among the signatories whose policies changed most dramatically are
Denmark, France, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Others
include Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Sweden,
Switzerland, and South Africa.

A total of 96 countries have signed the Convention on Cluster
Munitions since December 2008, including 20 of the 28 NATO members.
Thirty-five countries that have stockpiled cluster munitions have
signed the treaty. "Banning Cluster Munitions" notes that many
signatories have already started to destroy their stockpiles, and Spain
has completed destruction, the first country to do so since the signing
in December. Some of the countries most contaminated by past use of
cluster munitions have signed, including Afghanistan, Laos, and Lebanon.

However, some major users of cluster munitions, notably the United
States, Russia, and Israel, have not signed the treaty, nor has China,
which is believed to have a large stockpile.

"The US is out of step with most of its major military allies," said
Goose. "There should be a NATO-wide policy not to use cluster munitions
in joint military operations. The United States should not put treaty
signatories in a position where they have to fight alongside US forces
that use cluster munitions."

In its own policy shift, the US agreed last year that most cluster
munitions should be banned, but only starting after 2018. At the
initiative of the US Congress, the United States outlawed exports of
cluster munitions in March 2009.

"Even governments that have not signed the treaty are re-examining
their policies on cluster munitions because they know that history will
not look kindly on future users, producers, or exporters of this
weapon," said Goose.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions requires 30 ratifications to
trigger entry into force six months later. Seven states have ratified
so far, including five that led the process to create the treaty
(Austria, Holy See, Ireland, Mexico, Norway), and two countries where
cluster munitions have been used (Laos and Sierra Leone).

"Banning Cluster Munitions" looks at how governments engaged in the
"Oslo Process," an unconventional fast-track diplomatic initiative
started by Norway in November 2006 to create a legally binding treaty
to outlaw cluster munitions. The report also shows how civil society
groups organized under the umbrella of the Cluster Munition Coalition
(CMC) fought for a strong treaty. Charting the evolution of cluster
munition policy in 150 countries, the report highlights marked policy
shifts by major powers such as France and the UK. The report also
identifies difficult issues from the treaty's development and
negotiation that are likely to remain contentious as the treaty goes
into effect, including potential use of cluster munitions by
non-signatories such as the US in joint military operations with treaty
signatories.

The report was written jointly by Human Rights Watch and the
UK-based Landmine Action, two nongovernmental organizations that played
central roles in the creation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions
and serve as CMC co-chairs. The report was produced by Landmine
Monitor, the civil society-based research and monitoring wing of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

The release of the report comes at the beginning of a CMC-sponsored
Global Week of Action on Cluster Munitions, timed to coincide with the
anniversary of the conclusion of the negotiations of the convention in
Dublin on May 30, 2008.

 

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