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(Washington, DC) - Countries that have not signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions should join without delay, Human Rights Watch said today. The convention takes effect on August 1, 2010, becoming binding international law.

"August 1 is the start of the formal life of the treaty and the end of the legitimacy of this indiscriminate weapon that has caused so much civilian suffering," said Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch. "The stigma against cluster munitions is now so strong that no nation should ever use them again."

The convention was negotiated in Dublin in May 2008 and opened for signature in Oslo in December 2008. To date, 107 governments have signed the convention, of which 37 have ratified.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions completely prohibits the use, production, and trade of cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiled cluster munitions within eight years, clearance of cluster munition-contaminated areas within ten years, and assistance to affected communities and cluster munition survivors. On August 1, its provisions become fully and legally binding on all countries that have both signed and ratified.

Ratification enables countries to participate as full states parties to the convention at its First Meeting of States Parties to be held in Vientiane, Laos from November 8 to 12.

"Nations that remain outside this treaty are missing out on the most significant advance in disarmament of the past decade," Goose said. "If governments care enough about humanitarian law and protecting civilians from the deadly effects of armed conflict, they will join immediately."

Many former users, producers, and stockpilers of cluster munitions have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, as have many contaminated countries. But several key countries still remain outside, including Brazil, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States.

The Bush administration did not participate in the development or negotiation of the convention. In July 2008, the Pentagon announced a new policy stating that by the end of 2018, the US will no longer use cluster munitions that have a failure rate of more than one percent - in essence banning all but a tiny fraction of the existing arsenal. The Obama administration has not reviewed US policy on cluster munitions or the convention.

"The US has already acknowledged that cluster munitions cause unacceptable harm to civilians. It should not wait another eight years to stop using cluster munitions; it should ban them now," Goose said.

Cluster munitions can be fired by artillery and rocket systems or dropped by aircraft, and typically explode in the air and send dozens, even hundreds, of tiny bomblets indiscriminately over an area the size of a football field. Cluster submunitions often fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that act like landmines and pose danger to civilians.

Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the international Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) and serves as its co-chair.

Starting in Laos and New Zealand, campaigners in more than 50 countries are marking the entry into force of the convention with celebratory "beat the drum to ban cluster bombs" events including drumming sessions, film screenings, panel discussions, football games, photograph exhibitions, and other activities.

See the list of worldwide events:

The 37 governments that have ratified the convention are: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, Fiji, France, Germany, Holy See, Ireland, Japan, Laos, Lesotho, Luxembourg, Macedonia FYR, Malawi, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, Samoa, San Marino, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Seychelles, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Zambia.

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