Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch home page
Number of countries on board the treay process

Daily Briefings from Dublin

Final Day
Marc Garlasco - Senior Military Analyst
Friday, May 30th 12:20pm

Ban adopted!

Many eyes welled up with tears as cheers erupted in the delegates' hall at Croke Park this morning. All 111 nations present officially adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  I sat behind the delegation from Iraq, meaningful to me since I saw my first cluster duds in Basra and Baghdad.  It was a poignant moment capping two weeks of drafting new international law while living in a football stadium.  Some noteworthy closing statements were made.  Canada said they were proud to take this treaty back to their capital for signature, likened the treaty to steel, strong yet flexible, a tip of the hat to the many compromises needed to get the job done.  Iceland pointed out that Article 21, the pesky provision allowing "interoperability" with nations that refuse to give up clusters, should not be considered a loophole and in no way do they see it as justifying any active use of clusters in coalition operations.  Germany had probably the strongest statement of all, announcing a unilateral withdrawal of all cluster munitions along with an immediate entry into force of the treaty, months before they will sign in Oslo.

The blinding sun greeted us outdoors as the Cluster Munitions Coalition released celebratory balloons into the sky.  We know there is more work to be done.  Adopters need to sign and ratify, those not here need to be brought on board, and some states have to change national laws to allow them to come to Oslo.  Tonight we will pop the corks, let off a little steam, and bask in the late setting sun and glory of victory.  Until then I sit quietly thinking the world is a little better than it was yesterday.

PS – We sent Celine Dion a note asking her to sing one for the clusters ban, and for Ireland.  She agreed! But none of us had tickets to enjoy the moment...

2 Days to the ban…
Marc Garlasco - Senior Military Analyst
Thursday, May 29th 9:02AM

We've got a treaty! Many of us campaigners are still in shock. This has got to be the fastest-written, fastest-debated piece of international law in diplomatic history. Tomorrow, we expect it to be adopted by the 111 nations gathered here.

Here's how it went down, even quicker than expected:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's announcement that the UK government would support the treaty, dumping its M-73 and M-85 rockets, really energized the conference. The new British position cleared away the deadlocks and led the Irish president of the conference, Daithi O’Ceallaigh, to adopt a high-risk strategy and send the negotiations into overdrive. He needed to get the treaty translated for official acceptance Friday morning. So at 3 pm on Wednesday he announced that he would not be taking amendments on the draft treaty text that he'd circulated at noon.

We knew his announcement was coming. And we were worried about whether delegations were willing to support the draft. Our nightmare was that their specific objections to one article or another would lead them to reject the whole thing, and send us back to the starting line with only two days to go.

Our delegation had been bolstered by the arrival of more than a dozen Human Rights Watch supporters and volunteers from all over North America and Western Europe. During lunch, we fanned out through the cafeteria, playing musical chairs as we hopped from one table to the next to gauge each state’s position. We even pushed our volunteers in front of the cameras to do live interviews in their native languages in support of the ban and Human Rights Watch. 

Finally the session began, and everyone in the room held their collective breath as O’Ceallaigh asked for comments on the text. In a carefully choreographed moment, Zambia spoke first. “We represent the African bloc here and we fully endorse this package.” The tension ebbed. Next was New Zealand, then Canada, Mexico; on and on they spoke, the floodgates opened and we knew victory was ours.

The victory seemed to last an eternity. Instead of a resounding cheer, a single moment of ecstasy, it dragged for hours as each and every state felt a need to speak. My joy turned to muted boredom, but I was saved by the BBC. Calls rushed in and I was off to studio after studio to do TV and radio interviews for the next four hours. I returned just in time for the final endorsements, and a victory dinner with my Human Rights Watch colleagues. 

We have a lot of work still.  Government negotiators can now affect the way certain treaty provisions are understood — in essence, how the law is interpreted — by the speeches they may make tomorrow and in the future. For example, we need the British to announce that according to the treaty, the United States has to remove any cluster munitions stored at its bases on UK soil. We hope other nations will then follow the UK's lead.

As we return to the stadium for strategy sessions today, I can’t help looking out onto the green field in the center of the stadium, now covered with seats. They say nothing is over until the fat lady sings; Friday night after the treaty is officially endorsed there will be a Celine Dion concert here in the stadium where we negotiated this landmark treaty. She's a little too skinny to fulfill the proverb, but I'll take her.

3 Days to the ban…
Marc Garlasco - Senior Military Analyst
Wednesday, May 28th 2:31pm

We got a major boost today, at the eleventh hour, with a seismic shift in the UK position. The Brits agreed to almost every provision we have been pushing on, including the destruction of all their cluster munitions and the removal of the rockets they have been defending so long. They will bring a number of nations with them. Gordon Brown may have lost a domestic election last week when his Party was beat back at the polls, but he soundly defeated the military opposition from the UK MOD. He is probably looking at this as a possible way to sure-up his position domestically; to be honest I couldn’t care about his motivations – a win is a win. But we are still not out of the woods yet.

I am holding a final draft to the treaty and it is a strong one. Every article except one is solid; it will ban almost every cluster munition there is, require victim assistance and clearance, and puts pressure on those not here (like the US). But the “American clause” needs a lot of work -- it still allows the signatories too much wiggle-room regarding how they treat clusters in joint operations with the United States. It’s almost time to go into the chamber for a marathon session to hammer it out, and we are expecting to go well into the night. I don’t want to cheer because of the looming fight, but I no longer fear we won’t have a treaty. There have been times, while standing in Iraq or Lebanon when I thought this treaty could never be done. I'm happy to be proven wrong.

4 Days to the ban…
Marc Garlasco - Senior Military Analyst
Tuesday, May 27th 12:49pm

Rain is falling, large and swollen, dampening the city outside our windows.  Inside we are faring better.  For the first time we have heard states willing to compromise.  Canada, Australia, and others are finally using terms like “though we don’t prefer it, we can live with this” when discussing language.  The UK seems to be looking for a way in without losing face.  But Spain is still fighting tooth and nail for huge loopholes to defend one of their producers.  Slovakia is fighting for so many loopholes they will gut the treaty, and Japan seems to be here only to defend the United States; it looks like they are trying to water things down and then pull out at the last minute.  All also feel the pressure of time - the clock is now our enemy.  Over 200 people just jammed into a tiny conference room, standing elbow to elbow to fight over language on one clause.  We had 45 minutes to hammer out the compromises on what will become treaty text.  It says a lot that we are seeing diplomats jostling for space and a moment to speak.

We stand on the edge of a knife.  I hardly believe we have been able to forge consensus on twenty of the treaty’s articles.  That leaves us with two contentious ones – definitions and interoperability - two areas where the loopholes keep fighting back.  HRW’s people are seemingly everywhere here working for a strong treaty supporting human rights. Our role is critical - HRW can’t submit proposals, but we are writing them for others and helping to indirectly craft this treaty.  The Lebanese ambassador told me today without Human Rights Watch’s help he would be sunk; his delegation was unable to depart Beirut when Hezbollah closed the airport leaving him without any legal support.  Many of the smaller African and South American delegations have said we are their strategic reserve, and that we help them find their voice when the large nations try to bully them.  Hard lobbying is coming from all sides – word is Bush and Rice have been calling participating nations to push them to either kill the treaty or at least water it down.  But our work has gotten some of the hard-liners to move to the center.  The Canadian ambassador just told me he is finally feeling things might work out.  Now we have to make sure we can get those on the other side to accept they too have to be open to compromise.  All of this is dependent on the final treaty text.  How the next day plays out will determine the fate of this treaty.  At least the rain will keep us all here talking.

5 Days to the ban…
Marc Garlasco - Senior Military Analyst
Monday, May 26th 11:55am

The French dropped a bomb over the weekend. They announced the decision to destroy all their cluster rockets which represents about 80% of all French cluster munitions. It was a great message and a nice way to kick off the second week of the conference. The “like minded nations” looking for loopholes has shrunk and is no longer so like-minded. The French have continued to move in the right direction and hopefully they can help their allies to come over. There were nonstop bilateral meetings over the weekend, so everyone is taking this very seriously. But there remains a powerful British-Canadian-Australian bloc demanding an outrageous loophole to allow prohibited acts when fighting in a coalition assisting the United States.

We are in the final week, but it won’t be a full week - it all comes down to Wednesday. We were notified the work must be completed by Wednesday night so the treaty can be translated in time for acceptance on Friday. No time to play games. Everyone agreed to extend the hours late into each night so we can get this thing hammered out. There are break-out meetings being set-up to cover the contentious issues remaining. More importantly I am seeing more and more delegations meeting quietly in the hallway and calling their capitals for instructions. The quiet, respectful conference room has turned into one with a low buzz as discussions on treaty text are debated between nations. It is all going to come down to compromise. But the clock is ticking and some of the spoilers need to get onboard or get out of the way.

6 Days to the ban…
Marc Garlasco - Senior Military Analyst
Friday, May 23rd 4:30pm

The mice roared today.  After the big western nations demanded a transition period -- time to still use banned bombs -- the rest of the world rejected it.  It was quite a sight.  One after another they said no, and I lost count after forty in a row.  First Mexico, then Mauritania, Costa Rica, Cooke Islands, Togo, on and on.  For the first time in these meetings the Chair had to remind the delegates no applause was allowed.  Now that they have spoken the rest are a bit worried.  Some western nations came to us saying there must be a time when the African and South Americans compromise.  They look to us as honest brokers.  But they are the ones that need to bend; they need to reassess their positions and understand this is a negotiation.

Dublin’s eternal clouds were blown away by a strong wind, bowing the trees and whipping the flags.  Too bad our windows are closed.  The stale cold air of the chamber needs to be refreshed, and so do some positions.   Everyone says they have to consult with their home offices.  I hope the weekend brings some enlightenment.

Previous Posts >>

Learn More
A UN unit gathers unexploded bomblets dropped by Israeli forces in Lebanon. © 2006 Reuters.



Human Rights Watch home page