It is a rare and special time when our community comes together to celebrate its successes, such as the progress in eradicating US cluster bombs, which brings us here today.
So thank you to Open Society Foundations and Lora Lumpe for convening us, as well as to the Forum on the Arms Trade, and Jeff Abramson for getting the word out. Congratulations to Legacies of War and Channapha Khamvongsa on securing the massive US funding increase to clear cluster munition remnants in Lao PDR.
It is apt that we should convene here on OSF’s beautiful rooftop where the Forum on the Arms Trade was launched just over a year ago. At that time, C.J. Chivers from The New York Times spoke of his desire for arms researchers, activists, and journalists to talk more with each other and share evidence and contacts to help ensure credible and complete research that benefits everyone.
That theme of cooperation also characterizes the story of how we collectively convinced the last US manufacturer of cluster munitions to end its product line. Both working together and never giving up.
At Human Rights Watch, we first came into contact with US arms manufacturer Textron in around 2006, just before the launch of the Oslo Process that created the 2008 treaty banning cluster munitions in 2007. Two of my Human Rights Watch arms division colleagues who could not join us today—Steve Goose and Mark Hiznay—have since then engaged in an extensive dialogue with company representatives about their sensor fuzed weapons, which fell under the definition of a cluster munition in the Convention on Cluster Munitions adopted in Dublin in May 2008.
Once the ban treaty was secured, disinvestment campaigners led by Dutch NGO PAX launched a Stop Explosive Investments initiative to convince financial institutions to stop investing in companies that produced these banned weapons. A constant barrage of questions from activists, investment analysts, and media began to hound the companies concerned. Last November, a Singapore company announced it was stopping its cluster munition manufacturing business, despite the fact that its government still has not banned these weapons.
At the end of 2013, Human Rights Watch took on the role of coordinating the US Campaign to Ban Landmines, the national network of NGOs formed two decades ago to coordinate activities to secure a US ban on antipersonnel landmines as well as cluster munitions. With generous help from OSF, we were able to revamp the USCBL website just in time for the Obama administration’s 2014 policy announcements that ended US production and acquisition of antipersonnel mines as well as their use outside of the Korean Peninsula. At the same time we created a new identity and website for the US wing of the Cluster Munition Coalition, complete with the Twitter account @noclusterbombs. These communications tools have become essential to demonstrate a united voice and create a sense of community as we work to eradicate cluster munitions.
In April 2015, we first documented the use of air-dropped cluster munitions in Yemen by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of states. Our researchers went in and found evidence of yet more cluster munition attacks, finding explosive remnants and meeting victims of the weapon. Researchers from the United Nations and Amnesty International also researched civilian harm from the cluster munition attacks as did reporters from ITV, The New York Times, The Washington Post, VICE News, and other outlets.
A Saudi military official committed to investigate the cluster munition attacks, but we have seen no investigation yet.
Most of the cluster munitions used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen are old US stock made and transferred years ago. But they also included the first use by a recipient of newer, more “modern” CBU-105 sensor fuzed weapons, permitted for transfer by the US under export law provisions dating to December 2007. The CBU-105 is the only type of cluster munition exported by the US since 2008 as it is supposed to have a failure rate of less than 1 percent unexploded ordnance (UXO). Recipients must agree to use them “only against clearly defined military targets” and “not … where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.”
Yet research conducted in 2015 and into 2016 showed how Saudi Arabia's coalition was using cluster munitions in civilian areas of Yemen time and time again. We found multiple examples of the CBU-105 not functioning in ways that met the required one percent reliability standard.
Civilian harm from the use of banned cluster munitions in Yemen triggered public outcry, condemnation from governments and others, and attracted widespread media interest. In Providence, Rhode Island, a local reporter called Bob Plain began writing on the subject, seeking comment from local company Textron, manufacturer of the CBU-105 sensor fuzed weapons.
That coverage stirred the interest of local activists from the American Friends Service Committee, Peace Action, and the FANG Collective, who began demonstrating outside Textron’s Providence headquarters. They attempted to deliver a petition created by Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy and signed by more than 3,000 people calling on the company to stop manufacturing cluster munitions. In April, Pia Ward and two other activists were arrested after chaining themselves to Textron’s front doors in protest of the cluster munition production.
Meanwhile in Washington DC, the Obama administration was coming under increasing pressure to explain the billions of dollars in military support that the US provides to Saudi Arabia given the evidence of civilian harm from the coalition airstrikes and ground attacks in Yemen. At the end of May, the White House quietly suspended transfers of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia. Foreign Policy broke this story, which the administration never announced.
A congressional initiative led by Representative John Conyers Jr., Jim McGovern and other representatives sought to legislate the suspension of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia. NGOs rallied around the proposal, which was defeated on June 16, but in an incredibly close vote at 204 to 216. 40 Republicans voted for the proposal.
Throughout, all of this pressure continued to build on Textron, finally culminating in the August 30 announcement that it will no longer produce the CBU-105 sensor fuzed weapons.
Textron cited factors including "reduced orders" and the "current political environment." The fact there is now an international treaty banning cluster munitions was crucial. So was the fact that activists and now governments will never stop demanding an end to cluster munition production and use, even if Textron will never admit it.
So thanks to everyone for their many contributions to this positive outcome, which bodes well for future initiatives.