More than 100 nations have signed a landmark treaty in Oslo, to ban some forms of cluster bomb. (map, from cnn.com)
On Wednesday, Norway was the first country to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) and played a key role in hammering out the worldwide ban on using, producing, transferring and stockpiling cluster munitions.
“This is a historic day when a majority of states are committing to ban cluster munitions, making a new international norm that will make a considerable difference for thousands and thousands of people all over the world”, said Jonas Gahr Stoere, the Norwegian foreign minister.
China, Russia, the United States and other major arms producers have been asked by the nations to join them in signing the treaty.
Cluster munitions contain small “bomblets”. Dropped from warplanes or fired from artillery guns, 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 they often mistake them for toys of tin cans. Sometimes the bomblets (photo) explode only decades after the end of a conflict, killing and maiming civilians walking through the area, ignoring the presence of bomblets.
Since 1965, about 100 000 people have been killed or maimed by cluster bombs worldwide, said Handicap International (HI), a campaign group.
“The world is a safer place today.This is the biggest humanitarian treaty of the last decade”, said Richard Moyes of the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC), an umbrella group that comprises some 300 non-governmental organisations.
‘A new norm’
The country most affected by cluster bombs is Laos, which was the second nation to sign Wednesday’s treaty at Oslo city hall.
260m cluster bombs have been dropped by the US air force on Laos between 1964 and 1973. It is the equivalent of a fully-loaded B-52 bomber’s payload dropped every eight minutes for nine years.
Over two days, the treaty, which was finalised in Dublin in May, is to be signed by dozens of countries, including Britain, Canada, France and Germany.
The final number of signatory states will only be known at the end of the ceremony on Thursday.
“We hope to see more states signing in the coming weeks, the coming months, the coming years”, said Mr Stoere,
But the world’s biggest producers and users of cluster bombs have refused to sign the ban.Mr Stoere said: “Of course, [the treaty] would have been a stronger instrument if we had the US, Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan and India onboard.
“But we’re creating a new norm and we’re going to take away a huge market for the producers.”
On Tuesday, Washington reiterated its opposition to the ban.
“Although we share the humanitarian concerns of states signing the CCM, we will not be joining them”, said the state department in a statement when asked for its views on the signing ceremony.
“The CCM constitutes a ban on most types of cluster munitions; such a general ban on cluster munitions will put the lives of our military men and women, and those of our coalition partners, at risk.”
Also known as the Oslo Convention, the treaty should help stigmatise the use of such weapons even by non-signatory countries, said opponents of cluster bombs.
Jens Stoltenberg (photo, from aljazeera.net), the Norwegian prime minister, said: “The treaty places moral obligations on all states not to use cluster munitions.”
Mr Moyes said: “The treaty will increase the political cost of using these weapons for any country, even countries that don’t sign will struggle to use these weapons in the future.”
The CMC group hopes that when Barack Obama, the US president-elect, moves into the White House on January 20, the US position will change.
Although the motion was rejected in the end, in 2006, Mr Obama voted in the US Senate to ban the use of cluster munitions in heavily populated areas.