December 1 2008
OSLO: Some 100 countries will ban the use of cluster bombs with the signing of a treaty Wednesday in Oslo but major producers such as China, Russia and the United States are shunning the pact.
The treaty, agreed upon in Dublin in May, outlaws the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions which primarily kill civilians.
“It’s only one of the very few times in history that an entire category of weapons has been banned,” said Thomas Nash of the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) umbrella group that comprises some 300 non-governmental organisations.
It’s unlikely now that you’re going to see large scale use of cluster bombs,” he said.
Dropped from planes or fired from artillery, cluster bombs explode in mid-air to randomly scatter hundreds of bomblets, which can be three inches (eight centimetres) in size.
Many cluster bomblets can fail to explode, often leaving poverty-stricken areas trying to recover from war littered with countless de-facto landmines.
According to Handicap International, about 100,000 people have been maimed or killed by cluster bombs around the world since 1965, 98 per cent of them civilians.
More than a quarter of the victims are children who mistake the bomblets for toys or tin cans.
“This is not about disarmament, this is not about arms control. This is a humanitarian issue,” said Annette Abelsen, a senior advisor at the foreign ministry in Norway which played a key role in hammering out the international agreement.
In Laos, the most affected country in the world, the US Air Force dropped 260 million cluster bombs between 1964 and 1973, or the equivalent of a fully-loaded B52 bomber’s cargo dropped every eight minutes for nine years.
Dispersed in fields and pastures, the weapons make it perilous to cultivate the land and can claim numerous lives for decades after the end of a conflict.
On Wednesday, France and Britain will be represented by their foreign ministers, Bernard Kouchner and David Miliband. Japan, Canada, Germany and Australia will also sign the treaty.
But, as was the case with the Ottawa Convention that outlaws landmines, key countries such as the United States, Russia, China and Israel have objected to the ban and will not sign it because they are the biggest producers and users.
The election of Barack Obama as president may however bring about a change in the US position, activists hope.
“Obama has voted for, previously, a national regulation in the US for cluster ammunitions,” said Grethe Oestern, a policy advisor at the Norwegian People’s Aid organisation and a co-chair of the CMC.
“So that’s not just a theoretical possibility at all that we could see the US onboard this treaty sometime in the future,” she added.
In 2006, Obama voted in the US Senate to ban the use of cluster munitions in heavily populated areas, but in the end the motion was rejected.
The Oslo Convention is nonetheless expected to stigmatise the use of the weapon even by non-signatory countries, according to activists.
While the United States, Russia and China “seem to have an allergy to international law in general,” there are signs that “the stigma against this weapon is already working,” Nash said.
NATO’s decision not to use cluster bombs, including in Afghanistan, and the lightning-quick denial from Moscow when it was accused of using the munitions against Georgia in the August war shows that these countries also find the weapon “morally unacceptable,” Nash said.
“Even big countries like Russia don’t want to be associated in the media with having used cluster bombs.”
November 21 2008
The European Parliament on Thursday urged European Union (EU) member states to sign and ratify the Convention of Cluster Munitions (CCM) as soon as possible and to take steps toward implementation even before it is signed and ratified.
The resolution was adopted with 471 votes in favor, 6 against and 21 abstentions in Strasbourg, France.
The European Parliament requests EU member states not to use, invest in, stockpile, produce, transfer or export cluster munitions even though the CCM has not entered into force.
EU member states which have used cluster munitions are called on to provide assistance to affected populations and to provide technical and financial assistance for the clearance and destruction of cluster munitions remnants.
The European Parliament urged the European Commission to increase financial assistance through all available instruments to communities and individuals affected by unexploded cluster munitions.
Cluster bombs scatter over a wide area when dropped from the air or used in artillery shells. Many do not explode and it is often children who pick them up, with devastating consequences.
The charity Handicap International estimates that 98 percent of the victims of cluster bombs are civilians, of whom 27 percent are children.
EU member states are also requested to refrain from taking action, which might circumvent or jeopardize the CCM and its provisions. In particular, the parliament called on all EU members not to adopt, endorse or subsequently ratify a possible Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) Protocol allowing for the use of cluster munitions which would not be compatible with the CCM.
Cluster bomb survivor Ta with examples of the weapons that maimed him. Photo by Stanislas Fradelizi.
Xieng Khouang, Laos –
Imagine growing up in a country where the equivalent of a B52 planeload of cluster bombs was dropped every eight minutes for nine years. Then imagine seeing your children and grandchildren being killed and maimed by the same bombs, three decades after the war is over.
Welcome to Laos, a country with the unwanted claim to fame of being the most bombed nation per capita in the world. Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military dropped more than 2 million tons of explosive ordnance, including an estimated 260 million cluster munitions – also known as bombie in Laos.
To put this into perspective, this is more bombs than fell on Europe during World War Two.
The U.S. bombing was largely aimed at destroying enemy supply lines during the Vietnam war which passed through Laos. The war ended 35 years ago, yet the civilian casualties continue.
According to aid agency Handicap International, as many as 12,000 civilians have been killed or maimed since, and there are hundreds of new casualties every year.
Take Ta, a father of seven who lives in a remote village in Khammoune Province in southern Laos. One morning four years ago, he saw something that looked like a bombie. He knew it was dangerous, but he had also heard that the explosive inside could be used for catching fish, so he decided to touch it with a stick. That one small tap cost him both arms and an eye. Ta had to travel nine hours to get medical help. He sold his livestock to pay hospital bills, and when he ran out of things to sell, he went home.
Ta says he had to ‘eat like a dog’ for four years, before non-governmental organisation COPE provided him with prosthetic arms. Now he is able to help in small domestic chores.
When $50 is too much:
Then there is 31-year-old Yee Lee. He was digging around in his garden in August when suddenly his hoe came down hard on a bombie. He lost both legs and two fingers.
I met Lee at Xieng Khouang provincial hospital where he was having a moulding done for prosthetic legs. He was unsure and worried about what the future held. “I have five very young children, and my wife is six months pregnant,” he said. For now, his elderly parents and younger brother help his family. “I hope, with the prosthetic leg, to get back to work either in the field or around the house.”
Unfortunately, most survivors are unable to continue physical work, even if, like Lee, they receive free treatment and prosthetic limbs from agencies such as COPE and World Education . A prosthetic leg that can last up to two years costs as little as $50, yet in a country consistently ranked one of the region’s poorest and where almost 30 percent of the population live on less than $1 a day, this is more than most families can afford. Worse, loss of a breadwinner means loss of income and increased poverty.
Cluster bombs are dropped by planes or fired by mortars. They open mid-air releasing multiple explosive sub-munitions that scatter over a large area. These bomblets are usually the size of tennis balls.
Aid agencies say the indiscriminate nature of these weapons and the fact many bomblets fail to go off mean they have a devastating humanitarian impact.
On December 3 this year, over 100 nations will sign an international treaty to ban the use of cluster bombs.
Legacy of Vietnam War:
In Laos, it’s thought that around 30 percent of bombies failed to explode on impact, leaving about 80 million live munitions lying on or under the soil which has posed a serious threat to people’s lives and livelihood.
So far, fewer than 400,000 bombies have been cleared, a meagre 0.47 per cent. The United Nations estimates almost half of all cluster munition victims are from Laos.
Even with community awareness programmes run by national authority UXO Laos, with support from numerous aid agencies, the injuries and deaths continue. Sometimes people touch the bombies out of ignorance, other times it’s out of curiosity (children) or for economic reasons (adults).
With scrap metal going at $1 to $3 a kilogramme, some people collect war remnants to sell, and this includes unexploded ordnance.
In a private foundry on the outskirts of Phonsavanh, the capital of Xieng Khouang, the humanitarian organisation Mines Advisory Group (MAG) sorted through five years’ worth of scrap metal, and discovered over 24,000 live items, including 500 cluster munitions.
Xieng Khouang, in northern Laos, is one of the most affected areas – more than 500,000 tons of bombs were dropped here.
The mountainous and beautiful terrain is marred by craters of all sizes – locals liken it to the surface of the moon – and littered with metal shrapnel.
Children are at constant risk. In a small village school 20 minutes from the provincial capital, 248 bombies were found in a 4,200 sq metre area.
The province is also famous for the Plain of Jars – a vast plateau of ancient stone jars whose origins remain a mystery. But the amount of war debris scattered between the giant jars has seriously hampered archaeologists’ efforts to find out more about them.
David Hayter, country director of MAG, says the sad truth is that Laos will never be 100 percent rid of cluster bombs. “The priority is in clearing the land where people are living and working,” he said. “We are teaching them to learn to live safely within the environment. It’s a mixture of education and clearance.”
|Thursday, 29 May 2008|
More than 100 nations have reached an agreement on a treaty which would ban current designs of cluster bombs. Diplomats meeting in Dublin agreed to back an international ban on the use of the controversial weapons following 10 days of talks. But some of the world’s main producers and stockpilers – including the US, Russia and China – oppose the move. Prime Minister Gordon Brown called it a “big step forward to make the world a safer place”.
He announced earlier that Britain would be taking cluster bombs out of service. The final draft of the treaty went before delegates from a total of 109 countries on Wednesday afternoon.
How a Cluster Bomb Works (Source: Handicap International)
Cluster bombs are complex weapons. The following sequence explains its functioning and why bomblets cover a large area.
Step 1: The cluster bomb CBU-87 is dropped from a plane. It weighs about 430 kg and carries about 200 bomblets. This bomb can be dropped from a wide range of aircrafts from many different countries. The bomb can fly about 9 miles by itself before the bomblets are released.
Step 2: A short time before the bomblets are released the cluster bombs begin to spin. The canister opens at an altitude between 100m and 1000m. The height, velocity and rotation speed determine what area will be covered by the bomblets.
Step 3: Each bomblet is the size of a soft drink can. They deploy a little parachute that stabilizes them and makes sure that they descend with their nose down. Each of the bomblets holds hundreds of metal pieces, which can pierce armour.
Step 4: Depending on the altitude from which the bomblets were released and on the wind conditions, the bomblets can cover an area of up to 200m by 400 m. When the bomblets explode, they cause injury and damage across a wide area. The blast of one bomblet can cause deadly shrapnel injuries of in a radius of up to 25 metres.
This map shows the area of Trafalgar Square, London. It illustrates the radius of the bomblets. One cluster bomb could spread bomblets covering the red area. The green area shows the radius in which the bomblets could cause fatal injuries.
Cluster bombs have been used in countries including Cambodia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Lebanon.They are made up of a big container which opens in mid-air, dropping hundreds of smaller individual sub-munitions, or “bomblets”, across a wide area.
All politicians around the world should be “Urged” to sign and ratify this Treaty.
Don’t hesitate to give your “Government” a call or e-mail them.
Some times a bit of encouragement is needed.