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Cluster Munitions

News Editorial, Friends of Lebanon

“One cluster bomb can dispense bomblets across an area as large as seven football pitches. Cluster bombs and unexploded ordnance (UXO) kill and injure innocent civilians. They remain an everyday threat long after fighting has ended. They are more likely to kill their victims than incapacitate them. UXO injuries include amputation, burns, lacerations, and blindness. Like landmines, unexploded cluster bombs represent a lethal threat: they can lie in the ground for years until a child or a farmer disturbs them.”

/Andrew Parkis, Chief Executive of The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund
http://www.theworkcontinues.org/causes/mines_explosive.asp

 


To be frank, it is hard to be hopeful when reading the news these days. So it is with a degree of scepticism that we welcome the news of the UK signing on to the Declaration of the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions (23 February 2007). Forty-six nations joined humanitarian organisations* to conclude by 2008 a legally binding international instrument that will “prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians, and [that will] establish a framework for cooperation and assistance that ensures adequate provision of care and rehabilitation to survivors and their communities, clearance of contaminated areas, risk education and destruction of stockpiles of prohibited cluster munitions.” (http://www.regjeringen.no/en/ministries/ud/Press-Contacts/News/2007/Cluster-munitions-to-be-banned-by-2008.html?id=454942)

As recently as October 2006, the UK Foreign Office stated that "The UK believes existing humanitarian law is sufficient for the conduct of military operations, including the use of cluster munitions, and no treaty is required. The UK remains committed to improving the reliability of all munitions with the aim of achieving lower failure rates and leaving few unexploded ordnance in order to minimise the humanitarian risk." It said this had been longstanding British policy.(http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1925561,00.html#article_continue) This statement, in fact, is eerily similar to the stance still held by the US. When questioned about the refusal of the US to participate in the Oslo Conference, the US State Department Spokesman stated, “We... take the position that these munitions do have a place and a use in military inventories, given the right technology as well as the proper rules of engagement." He said the US military had made technical improvements to its own cluster bombs and looked closely at how they were used. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/europe/6390957.stm)

Others are also looking closely at how cluster bombs are being used. In their October 2006 report “Foreseeable Harm: The Use and Impact of Cluster Munitions in Lebanon 2006” (http://www.landmineaction.org/resources/ForeseeableHarmfinal.pdf), the organisation Landmine Action concludes that the cluster munitions used against Lebanon had no “significant impact towards achieving the military aims stated by Israel during the war. The massive and widespread use of cluster munitions across south Lebanon does not seem to accord with any recognisable legitimate military strategy” (p 8). The Senior Liaison Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Beirut, concluded: “When I arrived here in Lebanon after the war I noted again with dismay that cluster munitions seem to have been most effective against unarmed civilian populations and are used more as a weapon of terror than as a weapon of military supremacy” (p 37). Landmine Action’s overall conclusion is that

“An international instrument including prohibitions on the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions is urgently needed. Given the further clear evidence in Lebanon regarding the particularly problematic nature of these weapons it can no longer be acceptable for user states [US and Israel] to hide behind thin assertions that these weapons are ’legal’. If cluster munitions are ’legal’ it is only because the international community has failed to take the necessary action and render them illegal. If the international community has a genuine commitment to the protection of civilians from the effects of conflict such action must be undertaken” (p 43)

Ironically, Landmine Action published a similar report in November 2005, “Cluster Munitions in Lebanon” http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/files/Cluster Munitions In Lebanon.pdf. This report concluded that the existing Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons was inadequate to police the use of cluster munitions. The CCW had in fact for over 30 years “failed to address directly the particular combination of problems associated with cluster munitions and these weapons continue to be free from any specific restrictions” (p 1). The cluster bombs delivered by Israel in 1978 and 1982 were continuing, over 25 years later, to explode in Lebanon. Civilians not even born during the 78 and 82 Israeli invasions were still victims to this hideous weapon (p18). Its renewed use in 2006 has again prompted international concern.

It will take time to see the work of the Oslo Convention come into fruition. But it is a start. The most immediate and the most encouraging outcome of the Oslo Convention, however, is that such a diverse group was able to work sensibly together for the better of all. That the UK was able to take its cue not from the White House, but rather from the House of Lords is, well, refreshing. In the words of Lord Dubs, then, “This is a desperately important issue, because it is a sign of our humanity if we do ban these weapons” (before the House of Lords upon the 2nd reading of his bill on the Prohibition of Cluster Munitions, 15 December 2006, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldhansrd/text/61215-0001.htm#06121565000003 )

Israel’s Deadly Legacy Continues:
The 34-day war against Lebanon has left up to 1 million un-exploded (rocket/artillery delivered) cluster munitions. To this must be added an as yet undetermined number of aerial delivered cluster bombs. As of 14 Feb 2007, there are 847 confirmed Cluster Bomb Strikes.

Mine Action Coordination Centre, Southern Lebanon
http://www.maccsl.org/War 2006.htm
"What's shocking and I would say to me, completely immoral, is that 90 per cent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the [Israeli/Lebanon] conflict when we knew there would be a resolution, when we really knew there would be an end of this."

"Cluster bombs ... have affected large areas, lots of homes, lots of farmland, lots of commercial businesses and shops and they will be with us for many, many months, possibly for years. Everyday people are maimed, wounded and are killed by these ordnance, it shouldn't have happened."

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland
http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=19670&Cr=Leban&Cr1


*49 nations were in attendance: Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Mozambique, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. (Three declined to sign the declaration: Japan, Poland, Romania) http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/fromthefield/459411/117224602779.htm

 




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