February 24, 2007
46 countries to pursue treaty on cluster bombs
U.S., China, Russia oppose global plan to ban bomblets that can lie dormant for years
By Doug Mellgren
OSLO, Norway -- Forty-six countries agreed Friday to push for a global treaty banning cluster bombs, a move activists hope will force the superpowers that oppose the effort -- the U.S., China and Russia -- to abandon the weapons.
Leading the way: Raymond Johansen, Norway's deputy foreign minister, co-chaired this week's Oslo conference on cluster bombs. - Jarl Fr. Erichsen / Associated Press
Organizers said the declaration was needed despite the absence of key nations to avoid a potential humanitarian disaster posed by unexploded cluster munitions.
Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles which scatter them over vast areas; some fail to explode immediately. The unexploded bomblets can then lie dormant for years until they are disturbed, often by children attracted by their small size and bright colors.
Of the 49 countries attending the Oslo conference, only three -- Japan, Poland and Romania -- rejected the declaration calling for a treaty by next year. Some key arms makers -- including the U.S., Russia, Israel and China -- snubbed the conference.
But even deeply skeptical nations, including Canada, Britain and Germany, were swayed to join the Norwegian-led initiative in what activists hailed as a major step forward.
Jody Williams, an American who shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for a global campaign to ban land mines, urged nations supporting a cluster bomb treaty to move ahead without the major powers.
"They should do it the same way, with countries that realize that there are 191 countries in the world, and not just three," she told The Associated Press.
Last summer's Israel-Hezbollah war brought the munitions to the international agenda. The U.N. estimated Israel dropped up to 4 million bomblets in southern Lebanon during the conflict, with as many 40 percent failing to explode on impact.
Mark Regev, spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said Israel did not use any munitions that were outlawed by international treaties or law.
Countries opposed to the Oslo conference say cluster bombs are being discussed under the U.N. Convention on Conventional Weapons.
San Francisco – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today urged the Bush Administration to support international efforts to restrict the use, sale or transfer of cluster bombs that pose unacceptable risk to civilians. The following is her statement:
“Today, 46 nations declared their support for an international treaty that would, as of 2008, prohibit the production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster bombs that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
I call on the United States to join in this effort and protect civilians from these lethal relics of war.
I am very disappointed that, instead, the Bush Administration failed to send representatives to the conference and refused to sign the international declaration.
Currently, the arsenal of the U.S. military contains 5.5 million cluster bombs – or 728 million bomblets – many of which fail to detonate at a rate of 1 percent or higher.
I have introduced legislation with Senators Leahy, Sanders, and Mikulski that would change our nation’s policy on cluster bombs and limit the humanitarian cost of these indiscriminate weapons.
The bill would restrict the use, sale or transfer of cluster bombs where 1 percent or higher of the bomblets fail to detonate on contact. The bill would also ensure that the risk of civilian exposure to these weapons is minimized.
I urge my colleagues in the Senate and the House to join with us in support of this legislation and to send a bill to the President that would put an end to the senseless death and suffering caused by these weapons.”
Specifically, the bill introduced by Senators Feinstein, Leahy, Sanders, and Mikulski on February 15 would:
- Prohibit any funds from being spent to use, sell, or transfer U.S. cluster bombs with a failure rate of more than one percent.
- The President may waive this provision if he certifies that it is vital to protect the security of the United States.
- Prevent any funds from being spent to use, sell or transfer cluster munitions unless the rules of engagement or the agreement applicable to the sale or transfer of such cluster munitions specify that:
- The cluster munitions will only be used against clearly defined military targets and;
- Will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.
- Third, the bill requires the President to submit a report to the relevant Congressional committees on the plan, including estimated costs, by either the United States Government or the government to which U.S. cluster bombs are sold or transferred to clean up unexploded cluster bombs.
A report from Lebanon by George T. Cody
Executive Director, American Task Force on Lebanon
December 10, 2006
"Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz plans to appoint a major general to investigate the use of cluster bombs-some of which were fired against his order-during the Lebanon war. Halutz ordered the IDF to use cluster bombs with extreme caution and not to fire them into populated areas. Nonetheless, it did so anyway, primarily using artillery batteries and Multiple Launch System (MRLS) . IDF artillery, MRLS and aircraft are thought to have delivered thousands of cluster bombs, containing a total of some four million bomblets during the war." Ha'aretz (Israeli daily newspaper) November 20, 2006
On my ten-day trip to Lebanon, I learned that the "very high price" that Israel imposed on Lebanon is still being paid. Lebanese civilians, many of them children, continue to be killed and maimed by unexploded Israeli cluster bomblets-a million of them-which Israel fired during the summer war with Hezbollah. Here is some of what I learned on my trip.
Unexploded Ordnanced Left by Israel: Where is the Accountability?
In the summer war, Israel dropped an estimated 1.2to 4 million cluster "bomblets" on Lebanon from rockets, artillery, and airplanes. The UN estimates that Israel fired 90 percent of those munition in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when Israel knew that the ceasefire (UN Security Council Resolution 1701) was imminent.
The United Nations estimates a 30% to 40% actual failure rate for cluster bomblets in Lebanon, leaving them to kill and maim innocent Lebanese. According to officials I spoke to at the Mine Action Coordination Centre of South Lebanon (MACC-SL), the UN agency responsible for removing unexploded ordnance in Lebanon,23 people have been killed and another 136 injured from unexploded ordnance in Lebanon since August 14, when hostilities ended.
As of November 29, MACC-SL has identified 824 cluster bomb locations in the south, and with the help of UNIFIL engineers and the Lebanese Armed Forces, they have cleared 78,738 unexploded bomblets (about 8% of the total). As MACC-SL spoleswoman Dalya Farran told me, however, not one of the 824 bomb-strewn sites has been fully cleared yet.
What are cluster munitions?
Cluster munitions are bombs or rockets that contain 200 to 600 smaller bombs, or "bomblets" that are designed to scatter over a wide area when t he larger bomb is detonated. Bomblets are typically the size of a soda can or a D-cell battery and are designed to explode soon after impact. But not all of them do. Instead, unexploded bombs often litter the target area-silent and nondescript-until picked up by a child, kicked by a passerby, or stepped on by an unsuspecting farmer or grazing animal. They are hidden killers.
Who clears the bomblets? How is it done?
On October 28th, I met with officials at the MACC-SL office in Tyre. They escorted me to a banana grove near Ismaieyeh and introduced me to the eight[person UN Battle Area Clearance (BAC) team responsible for clearing the unexploded cluster bomblets scattered throughout the site.
Unexploded bomblets are detonated by hand or by special charges that are placed next to the ordnance and then exploded. One of the big problems is obtaining enough explosives to detonate bomblets in teh field. The explosives are imported in bulk but are not manufactuerd quickly enough to meet the need.
The UN officials then escorted me within inches of "live" cluster bombs that had been marked and surrounded by sand bags for later detonation.
How Extensive is the damage?
According to the UN, the cluster bomb contamination in Lebanon is the worst ever seen, worse than the contamination in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The reason for this is the sheer volume of cluster bombs droppped on a "postage stamp" size country like Lebanon. There will be a residual landmine and unexploded ordnance problem in Lebanon for years to come.
Seventy percent of south Lebanon's economy is based on agriculture, mostly tobacco, olives, bananas, citrus fruit and melons. Farmers cannot tend their fields because the bombing and shelling have destroyed crops, and they cannot plant spring crops because the fields and orchards are still contaminated by unexploded cluster bombs.
It has taken three months to locat and clear about 8% of the total estimated bomblets. About 32,000,000 square meters of land in Lebanon are currently contaminated. It will take 50 Bttle Area Clearance (BAC) teams, from the current 38 teams (10-15 persons per team) working 20 days per month, almost a year to clear and "break the back" of the cluster bomb problem to the point where killing will stop and agricultural production can resume.
The above clearing plan depends on adequate funding. The program will be short $7 million to $8 million, with current outlays expected to run out in mid-2007, unless funding continues. A number of countries (including Australia, Canad, Chile and member of the European Union) have provided initial funding. The UAE has provided $20 million. and the US has provided $2 million of a $7 million aid pledge.
Why won't Israel give up the bombing site coordinates to the UN?
The UN has been "SCREAMING" for information on where Israel fired cluster bombs. Israel is reluctant to give up battlefield information that would provide the dates and coordinates, because this would leave them open to international scrutiny on it's use of cluster bombs in civilian areas.
Join the campaign to stop the carnage in Lebanon and ban the cluster bomb by signing the following petition.
"South Lebanon: 100,000 Unexploded Bombs"