OSLO - Governments from around the world
today began signing an international convention banning the production
of cluster bombs - unexploded canisters that have killed and maimed
thousands of civilians and remain scattered dozen of countries.
the Oslo signing ceremony, Norway, which has led the efforts to ban
cluster munitions, was the first country to sign. It was followed by
Laos - where cluster bombs dropped by US planes more than 30 years ago are still killing civilians, and Lebanon, another country affected by the weapons.
the end of tomorrow, around 100 of the United Nations' 192 members will
have signed up. Once 30 countries have ratified the convention, it will
become part of international humanitarian law.
however, be a number of notable absentees, including the US, China,
Russia, India and Pakistan as well as Israel, which fired many cluster
bombs during the 2006 Lebanon war.
Campaigners hope the treaty
might help change global attitudes towards the munitions, as a 1997
treaty did on land mines, prompting some nations to sign up later.
primarily as anti-personnel weapons, cluster bombs open up in mid air
to release dozens of individual devices, known as bomblets, which
scatter across a wide area.
While the bomblets are intended to
explode when they hit the ground, many do not and can lie dormant for
years. Victims often include farmers tilling land and children,
attracted by the bomblets' bright colouring.
The US and other
nations insist cluster bombs have a legitimate military use. One group
that deals with the issue, Handicap International, says 98% of
cluster-bomb victims are civilians and 27% are children.
The convention has been enthusiastically welcomed by the Red Cross, and on guardian.co.uk by David Miliband, the foreign secretary, and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, his German counterpart.
weapons had "rendered huge tracts of land unusable, cutting farmers off
from their crops and visiting further suffering on families forced to
risk their lives simply to pursue their livelihoods", said Matthias
Schmale, international director of the British Red Cross.
and Steinmeier said their goal was a "truly global treaty on cluster
munitions", while noting that "many of the major users, producers and
stockpilers of cluster munitions" had not yet agreed to sign it.
the 34-day Lebanon war in 2006, up to a million devices failed to
explode and this summer more than 40.6m square metres were identified
as still being contaminated, according to the International Committee
of the Red Cross. More than 200 civilians died in the year after the
Lebanon ceasefire. Cluster bombs also caused more civilian casualties
in Iraq in 2003 and Kosovo in 1999 than any other weapon system.
least 75 countries currently stockpile cluster munitions. More than 30
have produced the weapons. Unexploded cluster bombs have also killed
civilians in Afghanistan, Chad, Eritrea, Chechnya, Sierra Leone and
Despite initial misgivings within the military, Britain,
which fired Israeli-made cluster bombs in its attack on Basra in 2003
and had been the third biggest user of cluster bombs after the US and
Israel, has agreed to get rid of its stockpiles of land-fired and
air-launched cluster weapons. British diplomats are trying to persuade
the US to get rid of stockpiles at its bases in the UK, officials said
Today's convention excludes weapons that fire fewer than 10 explosive submunitions designed to locate a "single target".