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

Daily Briefings from Dublin

Latest updates

7 Days to the ban…
Marc Garlasco - Senior Military Analyst
Thursday, May 22nd 3:06pm

It’s surreal to be in a football stadium without any cheers - the whole place is somber. We’re now deep into negotiations on the treaty details, spending long hours in conference rooms. Occasionally we tear off the translations headphones and sprint off to brief the press, or to write sections of treaty text for friendly governments to introduce, or to lobby the not-so-friendlies in the hallways.  It’s slowly working.  The blocs are solidifying, with those wanting loopholes like the UK, Japan, and the Netherlands far outnumbered by those who oppose them.  It seems like the entire African and South American continents are standing strong with us.

It is the states in the middle where the compromise is being worked.  Canada, France, and Germany are not pushing so hard today for narrow definitions of cluster munitions that would allow them to keep many dangerous weapons in their arsenals. That’s one of the two great areas of debate, and bringing those delegations around to Human Rights Watch’s position is critical. Meanwhile, on the other big, contested issue, Canada is holding fast to a red line on “interoperability.” Ottawa wants loopholes allowing them to support the use of cluster munitions when they fight in coalitions with the US.

The fight over the exceptions – what counts as a cluster bomb and what doesn’t – is a drag-out war of attrition.  We are hoping the UK will change now that their government spoke more favorably about this process yesterday, but if that’s the case, it’s slow in coming. The British remain hard as stone.  We have to get this settled soon as time is short.

8 Days to the ban…
Marc Garlasco - Senior Military Analyst

UPDATE: 5:26pm

So Gordon Brown issued a statement. It shows some positive movement even if it doesn’t signal a complete policy shift. By directing the UK Ministry Of Defence to reassess their current cluster munitions it may signal a willingness to get rid of the flawed M85 they used in Iraq and the CRV-7 they are so adamantly defending here. In the past they said these weapons don’t cause civilian harm. They are wrong and I’ve seen that harm all too often in the field.

This afternoon Norway made an elegant proposal to define cluster munitions based on weight. Though that may sound strange it would outlaw virtually all cluster munitions in current stockpiles and it caused some great debate. We are working all angles here and go late into the night. Time for some coffee...

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008 2:47pm

If the devil is in the details then Satan is hard at work here. If you ever want to see adults fighting politely you should come to an international negotiation. They can't hit each other, so they courteously tell each other, through gritted teeth, how distinguished they all are. There are finally some concrete proposals, though not all are positive. Spain and South Africa are trying to protect their own manufacturers and stockpiles. Finland and Japan seem to be at the wrong conference; they consistently defend cluster munitions. Some others are coming around. Canada took some important steps this morning in the negotiation on definitions and looks finally to be coming onboard. Germany and France have clearly allied and while not everything they propose is golden, they have put some solid stuff out there and look open to compromise. The UK has become increasingly isolated. They have been doing everything they can to defend their CRV7 rocket cluster munitions; it looks like they may just leave if they are not allowed to keep them.

Or not - the atmosphere here just changed dramatically: there are rumors Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be making a declaration on the UK position on clusters in a few hours. The vibe here has gone from heated debate to pensive anticipation. Everyone seems to be holding their breath. The UK is the main user of clusters at this conference and has a lot of weight because of its role, particularly in NATO and vis a vis the United States. So everyone is waiting to see what he says, if anything. As soon as the statement comes out I will let you know. I now return you to the regularly scheduled blog…

9 Days to the ban…
Marc Garlasco - Senior Military Analyst
Tuesday, May 20th 2:48pm

The whole first day was spent thanking Ireland for hosting the conference, but now the real work is finally getting underway. And the real work happens in the hallways. Coffee breaks, small lunchtime cabals, and quick handoffs of documents: this is how progress gets made. That’s not to say the formal meetings aren’t interesting and important – they are – but the real breakthroughs always seem to happen informally. We have to keep an eye on which country delegates are hanging around together, who’s seeking out whom, and how positions change after a quick caffeine fix with friends.

The first break-out sessions to cover contentious issues kicked off in a long conference room under the main meeting hall. The blocs are forming, and the pink elephant in the room is the United States. Everyone was talking around the US, and no one wanted to name it. They say “non-state parties” or “allies not part of this process” but we all know who that principally means. The big issue of “interoperability” arose almost immediately because the treaty will not allow signatories to conduct joint operations with partner nations who are using clusters. Some NATO nations and Japan formed a bloc calling for the treaty to allow the use of clusters if allies use them. Austria and Belgium quickly countered, and since Belgium is a NATO member their statements on fighting with allies had a lot of weight. Argentina quickly rose to support them. The UN actually had to remind everyone they don’t use clusters in peacekeeping operations.

Okay, time to go, I just got a message the Germans and French are meeting in the hallway…

10 Days to the ban…
Marc Garlasco - Senior Military Analyst
Monday, May 19th 2:41pm

We’ve gathered at the home of the Gaelic Games to write a major new piece of international law. Here in the massive Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, nearly one thousand diplomats and campaigners are thronging the chilly halls to hammer out the final text of a treaty banning cluster munitions. There is only one elevator running; we all hope they open up the stairs. Huge glass panes line each side of the venue giving unobstructed views of Dublin on one side and the stadium field on the other. Both views are insanely green. When we arrived this morning there was a long line of men probing the grass field and at first we thought it was a demining demonstration until someone told us they were fixing the divets in anticipation of an upcoming soccer game.

It’s impossible to be in Dublin and not know about these negotiations. The lead story on the morning radio news was cluster munitions, and there were three pages of coverage in the Irish Independent newspaper. The Pope came out yesterday supporting the ban and in this Catholic nation, that was big news. The HRW Arms Team has been working the press and the diplomats hard all day and morale is high. We know there will be a ban. The fear is the treaty will get watered down by some American surrogates, but we’re working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. Stay tuned.

View video of cluster bombs and the debate in Dublin. © 2008 BBC News

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



Human Rights Watch home page