Countries push for ban on cluster
Cluster bombs, which break apart in flight
to scatter hundreds of smaller bomblets, are what the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) calls a "persistent humanitarian
On Monday, representatives of more than
100 countries plan to gather in Dublin, Ireland for a two-week
conference to discuss a possible ban on the bombs.
"Cluster munitions are weapons that
never stop killing," said ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger.
A cluster bomb's bomblets are meant to
explode on impact, but many do not. Credible estimates show the
weapons fail to explode between 10 and 40 percent of the time,
the Red Cross said.
That means unexploded bomblets lie scattered
across a target area, often exploding only when handled or disturbed
-- posing a serious risk to civilians.
The most recent example is the 2006 war
in Lebanon, where the U.N. estimates that Israel dropped about
4 million bomblets during the 34-day conflict. As many as 1 million
may not have exploded, the Red Cross estimates.
The bombs have killed more than 250 civilians
and disposal experts in southern Lebanon since the war. They were
also used in the 1999 war in Kosovo.
"Very quickly after the Kosovo conflict,
the major killer of civilians [was] not anti-personnel mines or
anti-vehicle mines or conventional munitions, but these munitions,"
said Lt. Col. Jim Burke, a military advisor to the Irish Defense
Bomblets from cluster munitions dropped
during the 11-week conflict still litter fields, forests and vineyards.
In more than 20 countries, the Red Cross says, cluster bombs have
created lasting "no-go" areas, rendering them as dangerous
Laos is the most affected country. Millions
of bomblets dropped during the Vietnam war continue to kill civilians.
Military forces consider cluster bombs
important for use against multiple targets dispersed over a wide
area, such as tanks or soldiers moving across the landscape. A
single bomb can contain hundreds of sub munitions and cover an
area of more than 29 square kilometers [18 square miles].
"These can be delivered in the hundreds
and hundreds of thousands in a few hours, in millions in a few
days," said Peter Herby, head of the arms unit of the ICRC.
Still, some military leaders support the
idea of banning the weapons.
"Military people are generally pretty
practical," said Burke. "They don't want unreliable
or inaccurate munitions. They also don't want to be in a position
of being forced to use a weapon which is stigmatized internationally."
Though international humanitarian law
prohibits indiscriminate attacks, there are no specific rules
on cluster bombs.
States attending the Dublin conference
plan to negotiate a new global treaty prohibiting the manufacture,
sale, and use of the weapon, provide for their clearance from
a battlefield and give assistance to their victims.
However, some of the world's top producers
and users will be absent from the conference. They include the
U.S., Israel, China, Russia, India and Pakistan, according to
Human Rights Watch.
Other countries -- like the United Kingdom,
Denmark, France and Japan -- want exceptions for certain cluster
munitions within their arsenals, Human Rights Watch said.
"It is regrettable that the U.S.
and a handful of other states continue to insist on their need
to use a weapon that the rest of world is banning because it causes
unacceptable harm to civilians," said Steve Goose, director
of the arms division at Human Rights Watch. "But we believe
that a strong new treaty will stigmatize cluster munitions to
such a degree that it will be difficult for any country to use
them without international condemnation."
The Red Cross wants the new treaty to
prohibit inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions -- those
that cannot be targeted once released from their container and
do not explode on impact.
The process to ban the weapon began in
early 2007, when Norway invited governments to discuss new rules
on cluster munitions with the aim of banning them by the end of
2008. The Dublin meeting is a major step in that process.
"We can act now to prevent human
suffering on a potentially massive scale," Kellenberger said.
"States must seize this important opportunity to prevent
cluster munitions from killing and maiming countless other civilians."
Landmine & Cluster Bomb watch