More than 120 countries have sent their delegates to attend a meeting in New Zealand. They will discuss in order to find an agreement to limit the use of cluster bombs. NZ, Austria, Ireland, Mexico, Norway and Peru are the six governments leading the process.
The five-day conference that will take place in Wellington is one of a series that started in February last year, on a Norwegian initiative. The talks aim to the signing of a global treaty later this year.
The culmination point is set to be the adoption of a treaty in May, during a meeting in Dublin.But the major buyers and producers of cluster bombs – US, Israel, Russia and China – are absent from the conference. On the other hand, some 41 of 76 nations which are major holders of cluster bombs stocks are attending the talks.
Cluster munitions contain small “bomblets” (picture). The bombs are built to explode above the ground and release thousands of bomblets, designated for detonating on impact. But it’s estimated that between 10% and 40% of the bomblets released just above the ground fail to detonate.
According to a UN estimation, 40% of the cluster bombs victims are children, because sometimes they explode only decades after the end of a conflict, killing and maiming civilians walking through the area, ignoring the presence of bomblets.
A very recent example concerns Israel. During the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israel used cluster bombs that led to more than 200 civilians casualties in the 12 months following the ceasefire.
NZ’s disarmament ambassador and the conference chairman, Don Mackay, said : “what we’re trying to prohibit is those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.”
“The challenge before us is to build agreement among a sufficient mass of countries, including those who possess cluster munitions, to form a legally binding treaty”, NZ’s defence ministerPhil Goff told delegates.
“Smart” cluster munitions
The conference has been organised by the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC). It’s a global network of 200 civil society organisations, including leaders from the Nobel Peace Prize.
According to the CMC, France, Germany, Japan and the UK have been putting diplomatic pressure, aiming to weaken the draft treaty. They are trying to exclude certain weapons, include a transition period and allow the use of cluster bombs in joint military operations with the countries that haven’t signed the treaty.
Some opponent of an outright ban propose the development of “smart” cluster munitions, arguing that those can be better targetted and don’t leave many unexploded bombs behind.