Annan calls for immediate action to curb use of cluster bombs
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called for urgent actions to address the “disastrous impact” of cluster munitions, warheads that can scatter scores of smaller bombs, especially when used in populated areas, as occurred in this summer’s conflict between Israel and the Lebanese Hizbollah group.
“Recent events show that the atrocious, inhumane effects of these weapons – both at the time of their use and after conflict ends – must be addressed immediately, so that civilian populations can start rebuilding their lives,” Mr. Annan told the Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva.
“I urge States Parties to the CCW to make full use of this framework to devise effective norms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate the horrendous humanitarian and development impact of these weapons,” he said in a message delivered by UN Deputy Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament Tim Caughley.
While some progress has been made these weapons have continued to be used with devastating effect, most recently in Lebanon and Israel by both sides during the 34-day conflict, which ended in August.
The UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) in southern Lebanon reported that their density is higher than in Kosovo and Iraq, especially in built-up areas, posing a constant threat to hundreds of thousands of people, humanitarian and reconstruction workers, and peacekeepers.
“I have repeatedly called upon States to comply fully with international humanitarian law,” Mr. Annan said. “In particular, I call on you to freeze the use of cluster munitions against military assets located in or near populated areas. At the same time, we should all remember that placing military assets in such areas is illegal under international humanitarian law.
“I also urge you to freeze the transfer of those cluster munitions that are known to be inaccurate and unreliable, and to dispose of them. And I challenge you to establish technical requirements for new weapons systems so that the risk they pose to civilian populations can be reduced,” he added.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland echoed Mr. Annan’s call. “As a matter of urgency, I call on all States to implement an immediate freeze on the use of cluster munitions,” he told the gathering. “This freeze is essential until the international community puts in place effective legal instruments to address urgent humanitarian concerns about their use.”
Lebanon is only the most recent country hit by the legacy of unexploded cluster munitions. Cambodia and Vietnam continue to bear the burden of such bombs 30 years after the end of conflict, impeding the safe cultivation of land and the development of infrastructure.
“Ultimately, as long as there is no effective ban, these weapons will continue to disproportionately affect civilians, maiming and killing women, children, and other vulnerable groups,” Mr. Egeland concluded.