Cluster Bombs and Civilian Lives

Efficient Killing, Profits and Human Rights.

Cluster bombs are in the news again, thanks to a recent report from Amnesty International.

The human rights
agency has confirmed that 35 women and children were killed following
the latest US attacks on an alleged al-Qaeda hideout in Yemen.
Initially, there were attempts to bury the story, and Yemen officially
denied that civilians were killed as a result of the December 17 attack
on al-Majala in southern Yemen. However, it has been simply impossible
to conceal what is now considered the largest loss of life in one
single US attack in the country.

If the civilian
casualties were indeed a miscalculation on the part of the US military,
there should no longer be any doubt about the fact that cluster
munitions are far too dangerous a weapon to be utilized in war. And
they certainly have no place whatsoever in civilian areas. The human
casualties are too large to justify.

Yemen is not alone.
Gaza, Lebanon and Afghanistan are also stark examples of the untold
loss and suffering caused by cluster bombs. Meanwhile, the unrepentant
Israeli army will not consider dropping the use of cluster bombs in
civilian areas altogether. Instead it is pondering ways to make them
'safer'. The Jerusalem Post reported on July 2 that the army "has
recently carried out a series of tests with a bomblet that has a
specially designed self-destruct mechanism which dramatically reduces
the amount of unexploded ordnance." During the Israeli onslaught in
Lebanon in the summer of 2006, Israel fired millions of bomblets,
mostly into South Lebanon. Aside from the immediate devastation and
causalities, unexploded ordnance continues to victimize Lebanon's
civilians, most of whom are children. Dozens of lives have been lost
since the end of this war.

In Gaza, the same
terrible scenario was repeated between 2008 and 2009. Unlike Lebanon,
however, trapped Palestinians in Gaza had nowhere to go.

Now Israel is
anticipating another war with the Lebanese resistance. In preparation
for this, an Israeli PR campaign is already underway. It seeks to
convince public opinion that Israel is doing its utmost to avoid
civilian casualties. "As a result of the collateral damage and
international condemnation, and ahead of a potential new conflict with
Hizbullah, the IDF has decided to evaluate the M85 bomblet manufactured
by the government-owned Israeli Military Industries (IMI)," the
Jerusalem Post reported.

Of course, Israel's
friends, especially those who are yet to ratify the Convention on
Cluster Munitions, will be pleased by the initial successes of the
Israeli army testing. Under pressure to ratify the agreement, these
countries are only too eager to offer a 'safer' version of current
cluster bomb models. This would help not only to maintain the huge
profits generated from this morally abhorrent business, it would also
hopefully quell growing criticism by civil society and other world

In December 2008, the
United States, Russia and China, among others, sent a terrible message
to the rest of the world. They refused to take part in the historic
signing of the treaty that banned the production and use of cluster
bombs. In a world that is plagued by war, military occupation and
terrorism, the involvement of the great military powers in signing and
ratifying the agreement would have signaled - if only symbolically -
the willingness of these countries to spare civilians' unjustifiable
deaths and the lasting scars of war.

Fortunately, the
refusal didn't completely impede an international agreement. The
incessant activism of many conscientious individuals and organizations
came to fruition on December 3 and 4 in Oslo, Norway, when ninety-three
countries signed a treaty banning the weapon.

Unfortunately, albeit
unsurprisingly, the US, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan - a
group that includes the biggest makers and users of the weapon -
neither attended the Ireland negotiations of May 2008, and nor did they
show any interest in signing the agreement in Oslo.

Most countries that
have signed the accords are not involved in any active military
conflict. They are also not in any way benefiting from the lucrative
cluster munition industry.

The treaty was the
outcome of intensive campaigning by the Cluster Munition Coalition
(CMC), a group of non-governmental organizations. CMC is determined to
carry on with its campaigning to bring more signatories to the fold.

But without the
involvement of the major producers and active users of the weapon, the
Oslo ceremony remained largely symbolic. However, there is nothing
symbolic about the pain and bitter losses experienced by the many
victims of cluster bombs. According to the group Handicap
International, a third of cluster-bomb victims are children. Equally
alarming, 98 percent of the weapon's overall victims are civilians. The
group estimates that about 100,000 people have been maimed or killed by
cluster bombs around the world since 1965. Unlike conventional weapons,
cluster bomblets survive for many years, luring little children with
their attractive appearance. Children often mistake the bomblets for
candy or toys.

Recently, some
encouraging news emerged from the Netherlands. Maxime Verhagen,
Minister of Foreign Affairs, urged his country's House of
Representative to ratify the Convention, which bans the production,
possessions and use of such munitions. The ban leaves no room for any
misguided interpretations and does not care for the Israeli army's

In his speech,
Verhagen claimed, "Cluster munitions are unreliable and imprecise, and
their use poses a grave danger to the civilian population...Years after a
conflict has ended, people - especially children - can fall victim to
unexploded submunition from cluster bombs."

To date, the
agreement has been signed by 106 countries and ratified by 36 - and
will enter into force on August 1, despite the fact that the big
players refuse to take part.

The Netherlands' push
is certainly a step in the right direction. But much more remains to be
done. The onus is also on civil societies in countries that are yet to
ratify the agreement or sign it in the first place. "All that is
necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do
nothing." This holds as true in the issue of cluster bombs, as in any
other where human rights are violated and ignored.

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