Ban on Cluster Bombs
Posted by Fredsvenn den mai 23, 2008
About 560 delegates from around 122 nations and non-governmental organisations are convening today in Dublin (Ireland) for a 12-day conference aimed to clinch an international treaty that will outlaw the use, production and stockpiling of cluster bombs by its signatories and to clinch a global ban on cluster munitions.
More than half of the 76 states in the world that stockpile cluster munitions are taking part in the negotiations, along with a majority of the weapon producers, although some like Germany, France Italy and Japan want a transitional period first. However, the three biggest producers of cluster bombs; the United States, historically the world’s largest producer, stockpiler and user of cluster bombs, Russia and China, together with Israel, India, and Pakistan, oppose ban proposals and have veto power on the U.N. Security Council. None of the three is represented at the talks in Dublin.
The objective, ambitious due to the obstacles posed by nations that produce and use what the Pope yesterday defined as “deadly weapons”, is to draw up a binding ban in the example of the Ottawa Treaty adopted in 1997 for the banning of anti-personnel landmines.
Washington says the weapons have an important military use, although it wants their use regulated. The United States favors U.N.-organized talks in Geneva that seek nonbinding rules for using cluster bombs and cleaning up their consequences.
More than 100 countries are taking part in the talks. Delegates will point out that the vast majority of cluster bomb victims are non-combatants. Opponents of the weapon received the backing yesterday of Pope Benedict XVI, who called for a “strong and credible” treaty to end their use.
The two sets of weapons at the heart of the argument are the M85 and the M73, munitions fired, respectively, by artillery and rockets. British officials claim these are “smart” weapons which minimise the risk of “collateral damage” and are essential for military operations. The M85 is meant to self destruct and not pose a lingering threat to civilians. However, according to the United Nations, 300 civilians were killed or injured in Lebanon, where Israel used the weapons in 2006.
An Apache helicopter can launch 684 M73 bomblets in one attack. They were used by the Americans in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Their use was criticised by US forces, who had to negotiate unexploded cluster munitions on their way to Baghdad. The first two British soldiers killed in Kosovo were casualties of Nato cluster bombs they had been trying to clear. Senior Foreign Office sources said the UK was not prepared to give up the M73 and the system was “non-negotiable”. There was said to be flexibility over the M85, but the Ministry of Defence is expected to resist losing them.
Cluster munitions are large weapons that contain dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions. They cause unacceptable humanitarian harm in two ways. First, their broad area effect kills and injures civilians during strikes. Second, many submunitions do not explode, becoming de facto landmines that cause civilian casualties for months or years to come. Four out of every ten people killed or injured by cluster bombs are children.
Cluster bombs are built to explode above the ground, releasing thousands of bomblets primed to detonate on impact. But combat statistics show between 10 percent and 40 percent fail to go off and lie primed in the target area to kill and injure civilians.
Cluster munitions include a variety of weapons that can spread up to hundreds of bomblets over a target area. Up to 30 percent fail to explode, posing a threat to civilians for many years after a conflict.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says some 400 million people in countries and regions like Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Russia’s Chechnya live in effective minefields, under daily threat of maiming from cluster bombs.
Other campaigners say at least 13,000 civilians are known to have been killed or injured by the bombs — used heavily most recently by Israel in its 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon — in recent years.
UNICEF deputy executive director Hilde Frafjord Johnson, speaking on behalf of 14 United Nations entities that form the United Nations Mine Action Team, said the UN wanted cluster bombs banned. She said the weapons had a horrendous humanitarian, development and human rights impact.
Ms Johnson said the extensive use of cluster munitions in southern Lebanon in 2006 was a tragic reminder of how they caused death and serious injury of civilians. “Sometimes, the presence of unexploded sub-munitions forced populations out of their homes and prevented those already displaced from returning home to rebuild their lives and communities.”
Pressure groups have battled for a decade to ban the bombs, because the small bomblets dropped on airfields and enemy tanks do not always explode during wartime and have been blamed for killing and maiming civilians later.
Cluster bombs are fired by cannon or dropped from aircraft and release hundreds of smaller bomblets in the air that are supposed to explode upon impact. In Israel’s 2006 war against the Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, the bomblets’ failure rate was around 30 to 40 percent, and the United Nations said up to a million unexploded bomblets were left after hostilities ceased.
It is claimed that at least 18 civilians have been killed and 136 wounded in Lebanon by unexploded bomblets since the August 14, 2006 ceasefire in the 2006 Lebanon War. In August 2006, the UN’s Mine Action Coordination Center in Tyre, Lebanon, raised an alarm over the post-conflict impact on returning civilians of unexploded cluster bombs allegedly used by Israel against Hezbollah occupied village staging areas.
Israel immediately after the cease-fire gave the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) maps indicating the likely locations of unexploded ordnance, to aid the international attempt to clear these areas and avoid injury to the population. However, these maps only showed the general location of unexploded ordnance and were not useful for systematic clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munitions. Immediately after the ceasefire, Israel distributed warning notices to the residents in the areas of warfare, and recommended that they wait a few days before returning to the south until the UNIFIL forces cleared the area of unexploded ordnance. Clearance experts have estimated that it will take 12-18 months to remove the immediate threat from unexploded ordnance from southern Lebanon.
In Vietnam, people are still being killed as a result of cluster bombs and other objects left by the US and South Vietnamese military forces. Estimates range up to 300 people for every year. In post-war Kosovo unexploded cluster bomblets caused more civilian deaths than landmines.
The international negotiations in Dublin, to conclude on May 30, are part of the so-called Oslo process, that begun in February 2007 in Oslo, where convoked by Norway some 46 nations, including Britain and Italy, approved a joint statement calling for a ban, as of 2008, on the “use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster bombs. In the three previous conferences, held in Lima, Vienna and Wellington, the participants drew up a proposal to be presented in Dublin and submitted to a vote in Oslo in December.
“It will be the biggest disarmament and humanitarian treaty to be signed in more than a decade”, said Thomas Nash, coordinator of the international Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC). Some nations, including France, South Africa, Germany, Australia, Canada, Japan and Great Britain, are seeking the amendment of an article that aims to ban the participation of states that use cluster bombs in joint military operations; the US alone in its stockpiles, according to the CMC, has an estimated between 700 and 800-million of these ordnances, which in 60 % of cases the victims are children.
Each bomb can contain up to 650 submunitions that based on reliable studies have a dispersal of several hundreds of meters, while in 40 % of cases they remain unexploded and ready to detonate.
Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday called on governments to adopt an international convention banning the use of cluster munitions, on the eve of the conference on the issue in Dublin.
The pope spoke during a visit to the northern Italian city of Genoa, ahead of Monday’s opening of a 12-day conference aimed at sealing an international treaty banning their use.
“I hope that thanks to the responsibility of all participants we will get a strong and credible international instrument” to ban the weapons, he said during Angelus prayers in one of the city’s square. “We have to remedy the errors of the past and avoid their repetition in the future,” he added.
Pope Benedict prayed for the victims of cluster munitions and for their families, pointing out that some of those directly affected by the weapons would attend the Dublin conference.
In Ireland, the country’s Catholic bishops, have called on the Government to ban the use and promotion of cluster bombs.
The Catholic organisation Pax Christi has expressed surprise that such legislation has not already been enacted. The comments come on the eve of the international meeting in Dublin which it is hoped will spearhead the negotiation of a global ban on the highly controversial munitions. Meanwhile, the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs and Trócaire have also called on the Irish Government to pass laws banning cluster bombs.
A senior U.S. official said Wednesday that a proposed treaty banning cluster bombs would hurt world security and endanger U.S. military cooperation on humanitarian work with countries that sign the accord.
American officials are frantically warning their allies not to sign the treaty as it now stands, because it would undermine Nato and criminalise British soldiers who fight alongside them. Under the terms of the so-called Oslo process, any member of the military fighting alongside a country like the US, which refused to join the treaty, must face “criminal penalties”.
A senior state department warned that under the treaty, British frontline troops who call in artillery support or air strikes from an American warplane, all of which carry cluster munitions, could be hauled into court. The treaty could also lead to further overstretch of British forces, because the UK would have to deploy its own air cover instead of relying on the US Air Force.
British soldiers fighting alongside American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq would face criminal prosecution if the government goes ahead with plans to sign a treaty limiting the use of cluster bombs, senior US diplomats have warned. Mr Brown has already irritated the White House by keeping his distance diplomatically and reducing British troop numbers in Iraq.
The British Government is accused of being the chief obstacle to the signing of a treaty to ban cluster bombs, which have maimed and killed thousands of civilians worldwide. Countries that have suffered the impact of the bombs, humanitarian groups and former commanders of British forces have called for the UK to drop its insistence on retaining cluster munitions, a stance, they say, that is likely to scupper hopes of securing an agreement at the international conference.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials said yesterday that the British negotiators would be seeking exceptions from the ban for certain weapons: the M73 fired from rockets on a helicopter, each containing nine sub-munitions, and the M85, delivered by artillery shells, each containing 49 sub-munitions. Steve Goose, director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch, which is campaigning for the total ban, said that any attempts to water down the treaty should be rejected completely.
Campaigners say the Government must live up to Gordon Brown’s promise last year “to work internationally for a ban” on weapons that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. “Insisting on keeping some weapons and saying they are not negotiable is a deal breaker,” said Simon Conway, a former British Army soldier who is director of the pressure group Landmine Action. “The position of the UK is a huge stumbling block to achieving a comprehensive treaty. Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, has told me himself that he did not believe the M73 was appropriate for counter-insurgency operations.”
Stephen Mull, an assistant secretary of state, briefed reporters at the State Department to explain why the United States was not attending a gathering in Ireland of representatives of more than 100 nations working on a treaty to ban the bombs blamed for killing or maiming civilians as their minibombs explode months or years after they are dropped.
That sort of language has the US government concerned. Two senior American diplomats told The Sunday Telegraph that they are worried Gordon Brown will cave in to demands from campaigners, many of whom are based in London, to sign the treaty even if they cannot get the details changed. “We anticipate that the UK will be under the most public pressure of any country in Europe,” the senior diplomat said.
Britain has already angered campaigners by insisting that the armed forces will continue to use a limited range of modern cluster munitions, which leave fewer of the unexploded bomblets that kill children. That leaves ministers even less room for manoeuvre.
Critics see parallels with the way the Labour government has approached negotiations in Brussels, vowing to water down unappealing legislation but then zealously enforcing it at home. When Britain signed up to the International Criminal Court, Labour passed war crimes legislation in the UK, which was then used to prosecute frontline soldiers in Iraq, to the fury of many in the military. In this case the government would again have to pass laws that could put its own soldiers in the dock.
Patrick Mercer, the former Tory security spokesman, said: “The spectacle, yet again, of our fighting men being hauled into court is unacceptable. The practicalities of fighting alongside our allies are difficult enough already. If we sign and many of those on the frontline with us don’t, this is going to erode our troops’ fighting confidence even further.” Other Nato countries like Greece, Turkey and Croatia have also refused to join the so-called Oslo process, meaning Britain would face complications fighting with them too.
There is no guarantee that Britain will be able to change the treaty. The UK is one of just 20 nations, including France, Australia, Japan and Canada, that want aspects of it changed – and more than 40 votes against a draft would be needed to block the two thirds majority that could adopt it. If Britain fails to get its way the government will have no option but to sign or leave the conference, something they have said they would not do.
American officials say they are not taking part in the Oslo process because military rivals like Russia and China have refused to sign. The US instead wants cluster bombs included in a worldwide treaty on conventional arms which would include all the major military powers.
Thomas Nash, the coordinator of the Cluster Munitions Coalition, which wants a total ban, said that the whole point of the treaty is to “stigmatise” the use of cluster munitions and those who cooperate with countries that use them.
“It is an established concept of law that if something is a crime, helping someone do it is also a crime. We want the UK government to ban cluster munitions and British forces to not do anything at all to encourage, induce or assist in their use. If that means UK troops have to curtail some of their activities with the US, that’s what will have to happen.”
He said he expected Britain to pass laws that limit the individual criminal responsibility of soldiers if they unknowingly participated in a cluster attack. But he added: “If a British soldier was embedded with US forces and has to press the button on a cluster bomb, that’s a problem.”
Mull, acting assistant secretary for political-military affairs, said a draft of the treaty would criminalize military cooperation with the United States or other countries that have cluster bombs and do not sign the document.
That would hinder humanitarian work of the type the United States is involved in now in Myanmar and China, he said. American warships and planes often are used to respond to earthquakes, typhoons, cyclones and other disasters around the world.
“This would have very grave implications,” Mull said. “With one stroke, any country that signs the convention as it is now and ratifies it, in effect would make it impossible for the United States or any of our other allies who rely on these weapons to participate in these humanitarian exercises.”
Mull said it is crucial for the U.S. military to be able to respond to humanitarian disasters quickly and with as few impediments as possible.
A critic of the U.S. position, Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch, said in a telephone interview from Dublin that it was outrageous for Mull to link U.S. military humanitarian work with the United States’ “failed policy on cluster munitions.”
Mark Hiznay, senior researcher in Human Rights Watch’s arms division, said from Dublin that it is premature for the United States to criticize a treaty that is still being negotiated.
“There are a lot of countries here trying to solve the problem,” Hiznay said, including many that produce and use cluster bombs. “If the United States was really very concerned about it, they’d be here in Dublin standing up for their interests; they’re not.”
The negotiations in Ireland, begun in Norway last year, seek to impose maximum restrictions on cluster bomb manufacturing, sales and storage. But myriad arguments loom over defining what a cluster bomb is and whether to exempt the most technologically reliable or precise systems.
There are said to be divisions within the Government over the Dublin summit. Lord Malloch Brown, Foreign Office minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, is reported to have said he would be “uncomfortable” about a compromise that leaves some cluster bombs in the UK arsenal. The Environment Secretary, Hillary Benn, favours an overall ban.
Some of the most senior British former generals and Nato commanders urged the government yesterday to agree to a total ban on cluster bombs, describing them as “inaccurate and unreliable.”
Lord Ramsbotham, a fomer British Army general and chief inspector of prisons, is among a number of distinguished senior officers, including General Sir Rupert Smith, General Patrick Cordingley and Field Marshal Lord Brammall, who have asked the Government to sign the treaty. Lord Ramsbotham, who flew to Afghanistan yesterday as part of a parliamentary delegation, said: “I am going to ask the commanders there whether they intend to use cluster weapons and I would be very surprised if the answer is ‘yes’. There are moral objections to using cluster munitions, but tactical ones as well. They were designed to stop Soviet armour in the Cold War. There is no place for them in the type of warfare we are seeing now.”
The nine former commanders, including Field Marshal Lord Bramall, ex-Chief of the Defence Staff, General Lord Ramsbotham, a former Adjutant-General, General Sir Rupert Smith, who commanded the 1st Armoured Division in the 1991 Gulf War, and General Sir Michael Rose, a former Director Special Forces, declared: “If we are to be accepted as legitimate users of force then we must demonstrate our determination to employ that force only in the most responsible and accountable way.”
Amnesty opposed the manufacture, stockpiling, transfer and use of cluster munitions. Amnesty International spokeswoman Margaret Taylor said any declaration that fell short of calling for a complete ban on the destructive weapons would be a failure. Ms Taylor said cluster bombs, which could be fired, launched or dropped by aircraft or artillery, were more lethal than landmines yet there was no international treaty on their use.
Simon Conway, director of Landmine Action, said: “If Britain is to be a force for good in the world, the Government should totally ban these weapons – no exemptions, no loopholes.”
Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons
The United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), concluded at Geneva on October 10, 1980 and entered into force in December 1983, seeks to prohibit or restrict the use of certain conventional weapons which are considered excessively injurious or whose effects are indiscriminates.
The CCW consist of a set of additional protocols first formulated on October 10, 1980, in Geneva and entered into force on December 2, 1983. As of February 2008, there were 106 signatories and 106 state parties to the convention. Some of those countries (including the United States) have only adopted two of the five protocols, the minimum required to be considered a signatory.
The convention has five protocols:
· Protocol I restricts fragmentation weapons
· Protocol II restricts landmines
· Protocol III restricts incendiary weapons
The aim of the Convention and its Protocols is to provide new rules for the protection of military personnel and, particularly, civilians and civilian objects from injury or attack under various conditions by means of fragments that cannot readily be detected in the human body by X-rays, landmines and booby traps, and incendiary weapons and blinding laser weapons.
CCW along with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) serves as an umbrella for protocols dealing with specific weapons. The Convention and its annexed Protocols apply in the situations common to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 for the Protection of War Victims, including any situation described in Additional Protocol I and Protocol II to these Conventions.
CCW lacks verification and enforcement mechanisms and spells out no formal process for resolving compliance concerns. A state-party can refute its commitment to the convention or any of the protocols, but it will remain legally bound until one year after notifying the treaty depositary, the UN Secretary-General, of its intent to be free of its obligations.
Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War regulates the clearance of AXO (abandoned explosive ordnance) and UXO (unexploded ordnance), such as unexploded fragments of cluster bombs. Countries such as Laos (following the Vietnam War) and Lebanon (following the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict) are heavily contaminated by unexploded cluster bombs.
Areas with significant unexploded cluster bomb submunitions:
Countries that have been affected by cluster munitions include:
Afghanistan, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chad, Croatia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Montenegro, Pakistan, Russia (Chechnya), Saudi Arabia, Serbia (including Kosovo), Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Vietnam, and Western Sahara