Preventable Harm, Foreseeable Solution: The Campaign to End the Use of Cluster Munitions

Tasneem Jamal

Janis Grychowski

The Ploughshares Monitor Autumn 2007 Volume 28 Issue 3

Janis Grychowski is Community Mobilization and Training Coordinator at Mines Action Canada.

Cluster munitions kill and maim indiscriminately—and can keep on killing and maiming long after they are launched. Current and recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon showcase the widespread destruction that cluster munitions inflict. But munitions used in such conflicts as the Vietnam War, which ended over 30 years ago, still threaten human safety and security. Although the harm done to civilians is well known and established, these weapons continue to be used and produced. Now the international community is making serious efforts to ban the use of these munitions.

Cluster munitions include cargo containers and submunitions. Fired, launched, or dropped by aircraft or land-based artillery, the containers open and disperse bomblets or submunitions over a wide area. The bomblets are designed to pierce armour. Their explosive charge is lethal.

There are two main humanitarian concerns with cluster munitions:

  • Cluster munitions kill and maim indiscriminately. They blanket an area with hundreds and even thousands of bombs at a single time, hitting both military targets and civilian areas.
  • Cluster submunitions are designed to explode on impact, but many models in current use have a high failure rate. Surviving the initial impact, they remain to contaminate the environment — hanging from vegetation, fence posts, or roofs, and lying on roads and in fields. These “failed” submunitions become de facto landmines.

As in the case of landmines, the post-conflict costs of cluster munitions are devastating. Unexploded cluster munitions pose serious social, economic, physical, and environmental risks and can make rebuilding and reconstruction impossible. Fields become unworkable, roads impassible, and homes unlivable. In Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, the threat of and destruction from cluster munitions is all too real.

In February 2007, through the political will of the Norwegian government, movement towards a new international treaty dealing with cluster munitions began. Forty-nine states met in Oslo for preliminary discussions on a new international treaty prohibiting the use, transfer, and production of cluster munitions. The resulting Oslo Declaration of the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions has since been endorsed by 65 governments, including Canada, committing governments to conclude a new treaty by 2008.

The process continued in Lima, Peru in May, with representatives from state supporters of the Oslo Declaration, which by then included 28 more countries. Talk focused on obligations for victim assistance, clearance of land, and the destruction of stockpiles; and the importance of international cooperation and assistance in fulfilling these obligations.

Because of Canadian leadership in the movement to ban anti-personnel landmines, many states and international organizations are looking to Canada to assume a leadership role in the negotiations. Canada participated in the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions and the Lima Conference on Cluster Munitions, and has signed the Oslo Declaration. However, Canada’s future role remains unclear.

Mines Action Canada calls on Canada to declare an immediate moratorium on the use, production, transfer, and procurement of cluster munitions until a new treaty is in place. Canada has never used cluster munitions, does not produce them, and has declared its intention to destroy its stockpiles. A moratorium would be an easy way to demonstrate Canada’s commitment to a new treaty on cluster munitions.

Mines Action Canada, a coalition of Canadian nongovernmental organizations that includes Project Ploughshares, is collecting signatures on a petition requesting that the Government of Canada actively engage in and support the negotiation of a new international treaty that will end the human suffering caused by cluster bombs. These signatures will be delivered to the government on 3 December 2007, the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Ottawa Convention banning landmines.

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