Diplomatic talks on cluster munitions at a United Nations conference in Geneva sputtered to a weak conclusion today, underscoring the importance of the “Oslo Process” to ban cluster munitions, Human Rights Watch said today.
During a week-long session of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) member nations considered several ever-weaker proposals to begin negotiations on cluster munitions next year, and settled for agreement to “negotiate a proposal.” As one delegate derisively put it, “A proposal could be anything, how about a marriage proposal?”
“The Convention on Conventional Weapons has failed again to deliver any move toward addressing cluster munitions,” said Steve Goose, director of the Arms division at Human Rights Watch. “Any country serious about dealing with the horrific human cost of cluster bombs should throw its weight behind the Oslo process and sign a ban treaty in 2008.”
The CCW meeting rejected a proposal from the European Union to negotiate a legally binding instrument in 2008 that prohibits cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. The weak mandate agreed upon does not specify that negotiations should lead to a new legally binding instrument, or include any kind of prohibition. It also does not have a timeline.
The agreement is far from the “urgent action” demanded by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He issued a statement at the start of the CCW meeting, urging members to create a “legally binding instrument of international humanitarian law [that] should prohibit the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.”
Russia was the most visible and adamant country in initially opposing any negotiating mandate, and others expressing strong concerns included Belarus, China and Cuba. A number of other states indicated that they could not support a negotiating mandate if it was explicitly aimed at any sort of prohibition, or had a deadline for conclusion of an instrument, including Brazil, India, Pakistan, South Korea and the United States.
“After this week’s debacle, it’s clear the CCW is only for the ‘aim low, go slow’ nations, that want little or nothing done to affect their ability to use, produce, trade and stockpile all types of cluster munitions,” said Goose. “There’s no chance a clusters ban will emerge from the CCW, but the good news is that Oslo is racing toward a treaty that will save many lives.”
After the previous failure of CCW states parties in November 2006 to agree to negotiations on cluster munitions, Norway announced that it would lead an effort outside of the CCW aimed at a new cluster munitions treaty – similar to the Ottawa Process that led to the 1997 treaty banning antipersonnel mines. The process was formally launched in Oslo in February 2007 when 46 nations committed themselves to conclude in 2008 an international treaty prohibiting cluster munitions that “cause unacceptable harm to civilians.”
More than 80 countries are now participating in the Oslo Process, and will meet in Vienna in December to discuss text on a treaty to ban the weapons. Formal negotiations are to be held in Dublin in May 2008 to conclude the treaty.
The revived attempt to address cluster munitions in the CCW this year was clearly a reaction to the emergence of the Oslo Process, and the concern on the part of some states that it would move too far and too fast.
“The sudden willingness of the United States and others to work on cluster munitions in the CCW can only be seen as an effort to deal with the Oslo Process, not with the humanitarian problems caused by clusters,” said Goose.
Human Rights Watch urged states to embrace the Oslo process and to adopt immediate national measures such as a moratorium on the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions until the new treaty enters into force.
During the CCW meeting, Bulgaria and Croatia announced that they expect soon to finish the internal procedures that will permit them to announce a unilateral domestic moratorium on use of cluster munitions.