Religious groups are opposing a proposed new international law on cluster bombs currently being discussed in Geneva since they say it would put more civilians at risk than an existing treaty - writes John Zarocostas.
The proposal is being considered at the Fourth Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, which is taking place from 18 to 25 November 2011 at the United Nations offices.
The new law, supported by the US, Russia, Israel, China and India, would mandate the destruction of all cluster bombs produced before 1980, but allow stockpiled weapons to be used for up to 12 years. It would also allow the continued use of munitions that had a failure rate of less than one percent.
A cluster bomb releases smaller "bomblets" designed to kill civilians and damage vehicles and enemy munitions. The Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions, enacted in 2010 and ratified by 111 countries, imposed a comprehensive ban on cluster bombs and mandated the destruction of existing stockpiles. The five countries supporting the new law have not signed the Oslo Convention.
"The Oslo Convention has established a level of protection of civilians from harm from clusters in international humanitarian law and should not be allowed to be weakened by a new protocol; that is a step back," said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent representative to the UN.
"The commitment for people of faith automatically looks to universal standards in disarmament and arms control, and in this case our support goes towards the Oslo Convention," said Jonathan Frerichs, programme executive for peace building and disarmament at the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.
The Cluster Munition Coalition, an international group working to eradicate the weapons, and Avaaz, a global "people power" movement, presented a petition in Geneva with more than 587,000 signatures asking that governments "align any new agreement with the existing ban under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, ensuring this indiscriminate weapon continues to be comprehensively banned, and innocent lives protected."
Religious members of the coalition include the Mennonite Central Committee in the US, the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania Uniting Church in Australia, Christian Reformed Relief Canada, Pax Christi International, Presbyterian World Service and Development of Canada and the Church of England.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]