By: E&P Staff
Forty-six nations adopted a declaration Friday calling for a 2008 treaty banning cluster bombs, saying the weapons kill and maim long after conflicts end and inflict “unacceptable harm” on civilians, particularly children.
Some key arms makers – including the U.S., Russia, Israel and China – snubbed the conference of 49 nations. Of those attending, Poland, Romania and Japan did not approve the final text.
But organizers said the declaration was needed despite the absence of key nations to avoid a potential humanitarian disaster posed by unexploded cluster munitions.
Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles which scatter them over vast areas, with some failing to explode immediately. The unexploded bomblets can then lie dormant for years after conflicts end until they are disturbed, often by civilians.
The U.N. estimated that Israel dropped as many as 4 million bomblets in southern Lebanon during last year’s war with Hezbollah, with as many 40 percent failing to explode on impact. They have caused at least 30 deaths and 185 injuries, so far.
As many as 60 percent of the victims in Southeast Asia are children, the Cluster Munition Coalition campaign group said. The weapons have recently been used in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, besides Lebanon, it said.
Mark Regev, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry said: “During the recent conflict in Lebanon Israel used no munitions that were outlawed by international treaties or international law.”
Regev said if the declaration ever evolves into a treaty, then Israel would examine it and decide then how to respond. [Israel likely misused American-made cluster bombs in civilian areas of Lebanon during the war against Hezbollah last summer, the State Department said in late-January.]
Children can be attracted to the unexploded bombs by their small size, shape and bright colors, activists say.
While the document is not binding, organizers and activists hope it will pressure nations into halting the use of cluster bombs. Norway hopes the treaty would be similar to one outlawing anti-personnel mines, negotiated in Oslo in 1997.
“If you need proof that you can conclude a treaty without the United States, Russia and China, look at the land mine treaty,” said Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch. Despite rejecting that treaty, Goose said, the major powers have stopped deploying land mines and the number of civilian casualties has been cut in half since 1997.
The declaration urged nations to “conclude by 2008 a legally binding international instrument” to ban cluster bombs. The treaty would “prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians,” the declaration said.
It urged countries take steps at a national level before the treaty takes effect. Norway has already done so, while Austria announced a moratorium on cluster bombs at the start of the conference.
The U.S., China and Russia have refused to sign the land mine treaty and oppose the Norwegian initiative on cluster bombs. They did not send representatives to the meeting. Australia, Israel, India and Pakistan also did not attend. Those nations say the weapons should be dealt with in other arenas, such as the U.N. Convention on Conventional Weapons, known as CCW.
The declaration said work on the cluster bomb treaty would be carried out in Lima, Peru, in May or June; in Vienna, Austria, in November or December, and in Dublin, Ireland, in early 2008.