(Oslo, December 2, 2008) - The new international treaty banning the use of cluster munitions, to be signed in Oslo on December 3 by about 100 nations, will save thousands of lives, Human Rights Watch said today. The ban, the most significant arms control and humanitarian treaty in a decade, is supported by the overwhelming majority of NATO members but was opposed by the Bush administration.
"The cluster bomb treaty will save countless lives by stigmatizing a weapon that kills civilians even after the fighting ends," said Steve Goose, director of the Arms division at Human Rights Watch. "President-elect Barack Obama should make joining the cluster ban treaty a top priority."
The Convention on Cluster Munitions opens for signature on December 3, 2008, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and anniversary of the 1997 signing of the treaty banning antipersonnel landmines. The two-day signing conference will start with countries affected by cluster bombs, including Laos, which still suffers the effect of US Vietnam-era bombings, and Lebanon, target of Israeli cluster bombs during the 2006 war with Hezbollah. The "core group" that led the Oslo Process, which produced the treaty, will also be among the first signatories (Norway, Austria, Holy See, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, and Zambia).
Many of the world's past users, producers, exporters, and stockpilers will sign, as well as many of those contaminated from past use.
The convention prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions. It commits nations to clear affected areas within 10 years, declare and destroy stockpiled cluster munitions within eight years, help affected nations with clearance, and provide comprehensive assistance to victims of the weapon. The treaty will go into effect after 30 nations have signed and ratified it.
Cluster munitions can be fired by artillery and rocket systems or dropped by aircrafts, and typically explode in the air and send dozens, even hundreds, of tiny bomblets over an area the size of a football field. Used in urban areas, they invariably kill and wound civilians. Used in any circumstance, they can harm civilians decades after the war is over, as "duds" on the ground act like landmines, exploding when touched by unwitting civilians.
Both governments and nongovernmental organizations campaigning for the treaty intentionally built on the precedent set by the 1997 Antipersonnel Mine Ban Treaty, which proved to have an effect beyond the nations that signed it. Although the United States has still not signed the Mine Ban Treaty, for example, it has not used, exported, or produced any antipersonnel landmines since the treaty was negotiated 11 years ago.
Nongovernmental organizations, deminers, and cluster victims are attending the signing ceremony in Oslo City Hall, along with dozens of foreign ministers and other government officials. A delegation from Human Rights Watch is attending, along with its partners in the Cluster Munition Coalition, which it helped found and co-chairs. In 1999, Human Rights Watch was the first nongovernmental organization to call for a global halt to the use of cluster munitions.
"We'd love to see Washington, Moscow, and the others sign the treaty, but we think the ban will so stigmatize cluster bombs that even those who don't join now will be deterred from using the weapon," Goose said. "But a US decision to sign would certainly signal President Obama's commitment to multilateral action after the go-it-alone Bush era."