US absent as 100 countries meet in Dublin to finalize global cluster bomb ban

By agency reporter
May 20, 2008

Representatives of more than 100 governments gathered in Dublin, Ireland yesterday to begin writing the final text of a global treaty banning cluster bombs that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

The Vatican, church groups and aid agencies amongst others have called for a ban for a number of years. However, the United States — historically, the world’s largest producer, stockpiler, and user of the deadly weapons — isn’t at the negotiations

Over the past 40 years, the vast majority of confirmed casualties from cluster munitions have been civilians, and children are particularly at risk. Cluster bombs open in mid-air dispersing dozens to hundreds of small submunitions over a large area. Many of these “bomblets” fail to detonate and can harm civilians decades after a conflict has ended.

The draft treaty, which governments plan to finish on May 30, will ban the use, production and export of cluster munitions. The negotiations in Dublin are focused on the specifics of the treaty and in particular on defining which types of cluster bombs pose an unacceptable risk to civilians. The draft text sets a six year timeframe for destruction of prohibited weapons. It also requires states to clear cluster-bomb contaminated areas and to assist victims and affected communities.

“Cluster munitions do not know when the war has ended,” said Mark Engman, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at the US Fund for UNICEF. “Children stumble over them long after the conflict has ended or pick them up thinking that they are toys.”

In the past 10 years, the United States has used cluster bombs in civilian-populated areas of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo.

The US government has not participated in the treaty negotiations and is actively lobbying its allies taking part in the negotiations to weaken the treaty say critics.

“It is disappointing that the U.S. government does not support the goal of banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians,” said Lora Lumpe, coordinator of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines. “And it’s outrageous that it is lobbying allied governments to water down the treaty. Such a move isolates the U.S. in the world community, and risks undermining efforts to protect civilians.”

Last year Congress passed a one year export moratorium on exports of cluster munitions.

“Cluster munitions kill indiscriminately,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (MA), “While the U.S. government won’t be at the treaty negotiations, many legislators, including myself, support common-sense restrictions on these weapons. That is why I have introduced the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

The Pope, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEF, the American Academy of Paediatrics, and the Christian relief group World Vision, among others, have joined in condemning the use of the indiscriminate weapons.

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