The Methodist church in the UK has strengthened its call for a ban on the use of cluster munitions, urging the UK Government to take action.
The move comes as the United Nations Review Conference on Conventional Weapons meets in Geneva to discuss a new set of rules to limit the use of cluster munitions.
In September the Vatican's permanent observer to the United Nations called for a moratorium on the 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.
Following the war in South Lebanon hundreds of thousands of unexploded cluster bomblets litter the landscape and are maiming and killing civilians including children long after the end of the hostilities. The problem has been raised by amongst others, Christian Aid.
The UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs has described Israelís use of cluster munitions in South Lebanon as 'shocking' and 'immoral'.
Last week Hilary Benn, Minister for International Development, in a leaked letter to Margaret Beckett, Foreign Secretary, and Des Browne, Defence Secretary, opposed the continued use of the weapons.
Steve Hucklesby of the Methodist church said, "In 2003, Methodist Conference called on the UK government to support an international ban on the use of such weapons. Cluster munitions were controversially used in a populated area during the US and UK assault on Basra in 2003. We wrote then to the Government to express our concern about the use of cluster bombs. In reply the Ministry of Defence estimated that our forcesí use of cluster munitions in Iraq resulted in 3000 unexploded bomblets. While this may represent a small proportion of the unexploded ordinance in Iraq, a report in 2003 has nevertheless estimated 147 deaths from unexploded bomblets.î
At the UN Review Conference on Conventional Weapons currently meeting in Geneva governments are discussing a new set of rules to limit the use of cluster munitions. So far 18 states have supported the implementation of new rules, but the UK is not currently amongst them.
Mr Hucklesby said, "The current safeguards under international law and the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons are inadequate to restrain the use of these weapons. We call on the UK government to join with others in Geneva to implement a freeze on the use of cluster munitions."
The UK still retains stocks of RBL755 Air-Delivered Cluster bombs that were used in Iraq but plans to phase these out by the end of the decade. The Ministry of Defence estimates the failure rate of the bomblets at 6%.
The MoD has defended its use of cluster munitions in Iraq noting that the dud bomblets left by the weapons represented only a small proportion of unexploded ordinance left as a legacy of the Saddam regime and that such weapons provide a function could not easily be satisfied by other types of ordinance. It has also stressed the work it has undertaken to clear unexploded ordinance in Iraq.
In July 2006 the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church jointly published ìPeacemaking: A Christian Vocationî examining the call for Christians to be peacemakers. The report draws attention to the impact of cluster munitions in Iraq.
See also: Church and aid groups point to Lebanon unexploded bombs problem 13/10/06;Vatican asks UN for moratorium on cluster bombs 08/09/06; Church agency warns over unexploded munitions in Lebanon 09/08/06; Christian peacemakers report killings of women and children by US troops in Fallujah 14/04/04; Claims of campaigners against arms trade substantiated 10/09/03;