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Move by US, Others to Support Cluster Munitions Fails

Momentum for Signing of Ban Treaty Grows


An effort by some countries to legitimize the ongoing use, production, trade, and stockpiling of cluster munitions failed today, in the lead-up to a comprehensive legal ban on the weapon that more than 100 other nations plan to sign in Oslo, Norway on December 3.

The United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and Finland were among the countries pushing for a new protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) that would allow the use of all existing cluster munitions, including the oldest, most inaccurate, and unreliable varieties, for a period of up to 20 years.

"This draft CCW text would have given a sheen of legitimacy to nations that want to continue to use cluster munitions," said Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch. "The nations that rejected it were right."

A group of 25 states issued a joint statement saying the draft text was not acceptable because it did not achieve humanitarian objectives. Among the 25 were Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, and South Africa. Other states that expressed strong opposition to at least parts of the text were Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

The objecting countries have supported a separate treaty process that resulted in the successful negotiation and adoption by 107 nations in May 2008 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the weapon. The convention opens for signature in Oslo on December 3, and more than 100 nations are expected to sign, many at the foreign minister level. The treaty will probably enter into force and become binding international law in late 2009 or early 2010 - six months after 30 states have ratified it.

Under the CCW process that stalled today, the nations that are members of the Convention on Conventional Weapons were unable to reach consensus on treaty text, even after eight weeks of negotiations this year under the chairmanship of Ambassador Bent Wigotski of Denmark. The CCW operates on a consensus-only basis.

"The proposed text would not have imposed any significant new restrictions on the biggest users, producers, and stockpilers, like the US, Russia, and China," Goose said.

Following their inability to reach agreement on the draft treaty text, and despite the deep and often bitter divisions that exist on numerous issues, CCW States Parties decided to keep the effort alive by agreeing to continue negotiations for another two weeks next year.

Human Rights Watch said that the draft treaty text was fundamentally flawed, citing:

  • A 13- to 20-year "transition period" during which all cluster munitions could be used;
  • An exception clause for more technologically advanced cluster munitions that would still allow continued use, even after the 20-year period, of cluster munitions known to cause unacceptable harm to civilians, including those types used in Georgia in 2008, Lebanon in 2006, Iraq in 2003, Afghanistan in 2001-2002, and Kosovo in 1999;
  • No requirement to destroy stockpiles; and
  • Very weak restrictions on transfers of cluster munitions.

This is the third year in a row that efforts to deal with cluster munitions in the CCW have ended in failure. Less formal discussions on cluster munitions in the CCW began in 2001.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, set for signing in Oslo, was negotiated in Dublin in May 2008 and unanimously adopted by 107 countries, including most of the world's producers and stockpilers of the weapon. It comprehensively bans all use, production, and trade of cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiles within eight years, and requires clearance of contaminated areas within 10 years. It also has groundbreaking provisions requiring assistance to cluster munition victims.

"Any country that is serious about dealing with the humanitarian problems caused by cluster munitions will be in Oslo in December to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions," Goose said. "The effort in the CCW is more about providing cover to those who won't ban cluster munitions than it is about addressing the harmful consequences of the weapon."

The group of 25 nations jointly opposing the CCW treaty text included: Austria, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Indonesia, Ireland, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Uganda, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Senegal also endorsed the statement.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.