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Nations to Sign Landmark Ban on Cluster Bombs

Obama Should Reverse US Refusal to Join Treaty


The new international treaty banning the use of cluster munitions,
to be signed in Oslo on December 3 by about 100 nations, will save
thousands of lives, Human Rights Watch said today. The ban, the most
significant arms control and humanitarian treaty in a decade, is
supported by the overwhelming majority of NATO members but was opposed
by the Bush administration.

"The cluster bomb treaty will save countless lives by stigmatizing a
weapon that kills civilians even after the fighting ends," said Steve
Goose, director of the Arms division at Human Rights Watch.
"President-elect Barack Obama should make joining the cluster ban
treaty a top priority."

The Convention on Cluster Munitions opens for signature on December
3, 2008, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and
anniversary of the 1997 signing of the treaty banning antipersonnel
landmines. The two-day signing conference will start with countries
affected by cluster bombs, including Laos, which still suffers the effect of US Vietnam-era bombings, and Lebanon,
target of Israeli cluster bombs during the 2006 war with Hezbollah. The
"core group" that led the Oslo Process, which produced the treaty, will
also be among the first signatories (Norway, Austria, Holy See,
Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, and Zambia).

Many of the world's past users, producers, exporters, and
stockpilers will sign, as well as many of those contaminated from past

The convention prohibits the use, production, transfer, and
stockpiling of cluster munitions. It commits nations to clear affected
areas within 10 years, declare and destroy stockpiled cluster munitions
within eight years, help affected nations with clearance, and provide
comprehensive assistance to victims of the weapon. The treaty will go
into effect after 30 nations have signed and ratified it.

Cluster munitions can be fired by artillery and rocket systems or
dropped by aircrafts, and typically explode in the air and send dozens,
even hundreds, of tiny bomblets over an area the size of a football
field. Used in urban areas, they invariably kill and wound civilians.
Used in any circumstance, they can harm civilians decades after the war
is over, as "duds" on the ground act like landmines, exploding when
touched by unwitting civilians.

Both governments and nongovernmental organizations campaigning for the treaty intentionally built on the precedent set by the 1997 Antipersonnel Mine Ban Treaty,
which proved to have an effect beyond the nations that signed it.
Although the United States has still not signed the Mine Ban Treaty,
for example, it has not used, exported, or produced any antipersonnel
landmines since the treaty was negotiated 11 years ago.

Nongovernmental organizations, deminers, and cluster victims are
attending the signing ceremony in Oslo City Hall, along with dozens of
foreign ministers and other government officials. A delegation from
Human Rights Watch is attending, along with its partners in the Cluster Munition Coalition,
which it helped found and co-chairs. In 1999, Human Rights Watch was
the first nongovernmental organization to call for a global halt to the
use of cluster munitions.

"We'd love to see Washington, Moscow, and the others sign the
treaty, but we think the ban will so stigmatize cluster bombs that even
those who don't join now will be deterred from using the weapon," Goose
said. "But a US decision to sign would certainly signal President
Obama's commitment to multilateral action after the go-it-alone Bush

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.