Representatives of around 100 countries gathered in Oslo, Norway, today to sign an historic United Nations-sponsored treaty formally renouncing the use of cluster bombs, a weapon that frequently kills innocent civilians and cripples communities for decades after hostilities have ceased.
First used in World War II, cluster munitions contain dozens of smaller explosives designed to disperse over an area the size of several football fields, but often fail to detonate upon impact, creating large de facto minefields.
The failure rate makes these weapons particularly dangerous for civilians, who continue to be maimed or killed for years after conflicts end. Some 98 per cent of victims are civilians and cluster bombs have claimed over 10,000 civilian lives, 40 per cent of whom are children.
In his message to the signing conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all governments to sign and ratify the Convention without delay, adding that the Convention indicates a significant and fundamental change in the position of many governments.
“The importance of this shift cannot be overemphasized,” Mr. Ban said in a message read by Sergio Duarte, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.
“A great number of governments present here today, some with considerable defence and peacekeeping responsibilities, have concluded that their policies were not in full concurrence with their international obligations and could jeopardize recovery and development efforts,” he added.
Adopted at a diplomatic conference in Dublin this May, the Convention on Cluster Munitions offers an unprecedented prohibition on the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of these weapons, representing the most significant humanitarian and disarmament treaty of the decade.
In addition to claiming casualties, cluster munitions contaminate arable land, kill livestock and destroy shelters, presenting ongoing barriers to economic recovery and development, according to a press release issued by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) today.
In Laos, for example, clearance operations are still ongoing more than 30 years after conflict left 75 million unexploded cluster bomblets across the country. In Lebanon, cluster munitions were dropped on more than 48 million square metres of land in July and August 2006, killing and injuring over 300 civilians.
The Convention – negotiated by States that represent past and current producers, stockpilers and victims of cluster munitions – establishes important commitments regarding assistance to victims, clearance of contaminated areas and destruction of stockpiles.
“We see an unprecedented opportunity for states to sign this treaty, clearing the world of a weapon that wages war on civilians,” said Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, Kathleen Cravero.
UNDP noted that it is the first successfully negotiated international treaty to ban an entire category of conventional weapons and is a significant strengthening of international humanitarian law.
“It is only fitting that we should gather here, where treaty negotiations began, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities to protect future generations from this insidious weapon,” said Ms. Cravero. “Let us take advantage of this historic opportunity to make cluster munitions a weapon of the past.”