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Geneva, Switzerland  
Mr. President, distinguished delegates, colleagues,  
We are at a special moment in time. They do not happen very often. We have a chance to make a real difference in alleviating and preventing human suffering from the consequences of war, in advancing international humanitarian law, and in carrying forward a government-NGO partnership based on common humanitarian concerns. We should seize this moment as a matter of great urgency and vital importance. It is time to begin the process that will result in a new international instrument on cluster munitions.

My colleagues have described the terrible human and socio-economic toll that cluster munitions have taken around the world. They have described how cluster munitions seem to be inevitably used in ways inconsistent with international humanitarian law, in ways that cause foreseeable, and therefore avoidable, harm to civilians - unnecessary and unacceptable harm to civilians.  
In recent years, we have seen the damage caused by 250,000 submunitions in Afghanistan, by 300,000 submunitions in Kosovo, by 2 million submunitions in Iraq, and by an estimated 2.5 to 4.5 million submunitions in Lebanon.  
But imagine the future. Consider this: there are billions of submunitions in the arsenals of more than 70 nations. I'll repeat that for those who think they heard it wrong. I did not say millions of submunitions, or even hundreds of millions, I said billions. They are also already in the hands of non-state armed groups, as demonstrated by Hezbollah's recent use in Israel-a proliferation problem that will no doubt worsen with time.   

We must urgently address this humanitarian crisis in waiting.  
There are many steps that can be taken at national, regional and international levels. In this Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) context, states should support the proposal for a negotiating mandate on cluster munitions. This is a recognition of the pressing need for negotiations, and an acknowledgement of the role the CCW should play in dealing with potentially indiscriminate weapons.  
We note that some who express concern for the dangers of cluster munitions are not yet supporting negotiations, but rather extension of the mandate for discussions on ERW, including some aspects of cluster munitions. That approach, even if well meaning, is clearly not sufficient. It in no way reflects the level of the threat from cluster munitions or the urgency of the threat. We have seen with MOTAPM that CCW discussions can drag on for years with little hope of success. The proposal for mere discussions in the CCW based on a limited mandate is at best a go-slow approach to a looming disaster, and at worst a deliberate formula for future failure.  
If States Parties are unable to agree on a negotiating mandate on cluster munitions, a CCW discussion mandate is not a viable option. If the proposal for cluster munition negotiations in the CCW fails, governments interested in seriously addressing the humanitarian harm caused by cluster munitions should seek to achieve a new international instrument through a new process, an alternative approach, a different forum-one that will have greater chance for success in a shorter period of time.  
This would not be an indictment of the CCW, but rather a recognition that what matters is the objective of the CCW-protection of civilians from the consequences of war and weapons-and not perceptions of or concerns about the "integrity" or "relevance" of the convention itself.  
There have been many views expressed about how best to "address the humanitarian concerns posed by cluster munitions," in the words of the proposed negotiation mandate. One hears: prohibition, freeze, restriction, moratorium. Some say prohibit or restrict use of cluster munitions with high failure rates. Some say prohibit or restrict use in populated areas. Some say prohibit use of inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions. Some say prohibit use of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable humanitarian harm. Some say ban all cluster munitions.  
There may in fact not be much difference in all these formulations. That can be worked out during preparations for negotiations and negotiations themselves. But it should be clear that the objective is to reduce the dangers to civilians as much as possible. In our view, it should be equally clear that there are already cluster munitions containing billions of submunitions that should never be used.  
An effective international instrument will require a prohibition on and destruction of most if not all existing cluster munitions. It will be up to governments to demonstrate that there are reliable and accurate cluster munitions, that there are cluster munitions that can be used in ways that do not pose unacceptable dangers to civilians either during or after attacks.  
Mr. President, in closing, there are two other proposals on the table that Human Rights Watch strongly supports. First, the proposal by Ireland and Sweden for a preambular paragraph of the final declaration recognizing that foreseeable long-term effects of ERW on civilian populations are an important factor to consider in the proportionality assessment. We believe that this would be an important clarification and therefore advancement in international humanitarian law. This concept underpins the prohibition on antipersonnel mines, where it is recognized that the long-term humanitarian consequences clearly far outweigh the short-term military benefits. The concept has important implications for looking at cluster munitions under international humanitarian law as well.  
Second, we strongly support the proposal from Germany and Sweden to undertake new study of laser systems in light of technological developments since 1995. We have particular concerns regarding "dazzling" lasers that could function as blinding lasers. Human Rights Watch played a key role in developing and promoting Protocol IV on blinding lasers, and we think that it is past time to take a careful look at how it is being implemented and the effect of new developments on the prohibition.  
Thank you.  

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