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Middle East and North Africa: US Cuts Cluster Bomb Supply

US Export Ban Should Spur Countries to Sign Treaty Banning the Weapon

NEW YORK - A new US law permanently banning nearly all cluster bomb exports by
the United States will end a long period of transfers of the weapon to
Israel and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Human
Rights Watch said today. The measure should spur the countries in the
region as well as the US to join the international treaty prohibiting
cluster munitions, Human Rights Watch said.

The US export ban was included in an omnibus budget bill (HR 1105)
that President Barack Obama signed into law on March 11, 2009. Under
the law, the US can only export cluster munitions that leave behind
less than 1 percent of their submunitions as duds. These duds act like
landmines on the ground, exploding when touched by unwitting civilians.
The legislation also requires the receiving country to agree that
cluster munitions "will not be used where civilians are known to be
present." Only a tiny fraction of the cluster munitions in the US
arsenal meet the 1-percent standard.

"US-supplied cluster munitions have caused great harm to civilians
in Lebanon, Iraq, Western Sahara and elsewhere in the region," said
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human
Rights Watch. "These countries should consider the export ban a first
step toward ridding the region of this unreliable and inaccurate weapon
that claims civilian lives and limbs for years following its use."

The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits the use,
production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions, and
provides strict deadlines for clearance of affected areas and
destruction of stockpiled cluster munitions. A total of 95 countries
have signed the convention, including Lebanon and Tunisia from the
Middle East and North Africa.

The United States has transferred cluster munitions to at least
eight countries in the region, including Bahrain, Egypt, Israel,
Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Israel has been a major recipient of US cluster munitions and used the
weapons extensively in its 2006 armed conflict in Lebanon ( ).

The US export ban was first enacted in a budget bill in December 2007, but that law mandated it for only one year.

"The permanent US export ban will prevent the potential transfer of
millions of cluster submunitions to Israel and other states in the
region," said Whitson. "But unless governments in the region join the
international treaty banning the use as well as transfer of cluster
munitions, the threat will remain."

In December 2008, the Obama transition team said that the
president-elect would "carefully review" the new treaty and "work
closely [with] our friends and allies to ensure that the United States
is doing everything feasible to promote protection of civilians." 

US policy on cluster munitions was last articulated in a three-page
policy directive issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in July 2008.
The directive described cluster munitions as "legitimate weapons with
clear military utility" and said that the US will continue to use
cluster munitions and, after 2018, will use only munitions with a
tested failure rate of less than 1 percent.

Human Rights Watch co-chairs the Cluster Munition Coalition, which
it helped found in November 2003. Human Rights Watch and others stepped
up pressure for an international treaty to deal with cluster munitions
after Israel's massive use of these weapons in southern Lebanon in July
and August 2006. These weapons left large swaths of Lebanon
contaminated by the deadly, unexploded submunitions.

Cluster munitions can be fired by artillery and rocket systems or
dropped by aircraft, and typically explode in the air and send dozens,
even hundreds, of tiny submunitions or bomblets over an area the size
of a football field. Cluster munitions cannot distinguish between
military targets and civilians, so their humanitarian impact can be
extreme when they are used in or near populated areas. Cluster
submunitions often fail to explode on initial impact, leaving the duds
that act like landmines and pose danger to civilians.


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