The Vatican's permanent observer to the United Nations has called for a moratorium on submunitions, otherwise known as 'scatterable mines' or 'cluster bombs'.
Submunitions are air-dropped or ground launched shells that eject multiple small bomblets, grenades, or mines. Small and explosive or chemical-filled, they are designed for saturation coverage of a large area, and in effect create large mine fields designed to kill or main.
As well as military casualties, according to evidence gathered by non-governmental and international organisations, the use of cluster munitions has resulted in a consistent pattern of civilian harm.
Civilian casualties take place at the time of attacks but also in the post-conflict period as a result of unexploded bombs left behind. Campaigners say the full extent of this harm cannot be known because of difficulties in gathering information at the time of attacks and because casualties are still occurring in almost all countries where cluster munitions have been used.
The use of cluster bombs has been admitted by both the U.S. and British military. Both used several types of cluster munitions, including those that have caused severe humanitarian problems in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
The call for a moratorium came from Archbishop Silvano Tomasi was speaking at the 15th Session of the Group of Governmental Experts of States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) which was held from August 28 to September 6.
Archbishop Tomasi said: "we have heard no convincing evidence from those who consider these arms [sub-munitions] to be legitimate. In any case, all arms are called legitimate before being prohibited or regulated. Was that not true of chemical, biological, incendiary and laser weapons? The fact of declaring a particular armament legitimate does not make it more acceptable or less inhuman."
After highlighting how the Holy See considers "it vital to undertake a profound reflection on the nature and use of sub-munitions," Archbishop Tomasi pointed out that the victims of conflict "cannot wait for years of negotiations and discussions. For this reason, there must be a moratorium on the use of these arms. At the same time, the States parties to the CCW must set themselves to work."
In 2004, Pope, John Paul II urged the destruction of landmine stockpiles and called on nations including China, Russia, India and the US to adhere to the 1997 Ottowa Convention to ban them.