"Churches around the world are much encouraged" by the multilateral agreement on cluster munitions reached Wednesday in Dublin, said World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev Dr Samuel Kobia today.
But they now look with expectation to "powerful governments that have not been at the negotiating table", he said.
More than half the world’s governments agreed to ban the production, use, stockpiling and export of all existing cluster munitions, yesterday.
Meeting in Dublin, Ireland, representatives of 110 nations completed negotiations on a new international treaty that commits their governments to stop using these weapons and to destroy their existing stockpiles within eight years.
But the US government amongst others did not attend the negotiations and actively worked to undermine them, say campaigners. But in the end, all other major NATO countries joined with the majority in agreeing to ban these weapons, which are designed to kill or maim every living thing in an area as large as two football fields.
The vast majority of victims of cluster bombs have been civilians.
"Churches around the world are much encouraged by the fact that 110 governments have been able to agree on how cluster munitions can be banned. Just three months ago the World Council of Churches central committee affirmed this joint endeavor with civil society and now the terms of a solid treaty are already on the table", Samuel Kobia said.
"In conflict areas, assistance is one step closer for civilians who have been maimed by these indiscriminate weapons and for people who must live where cluster bombs have been used. A cluster bomb ban will save lives in future as well.
"We also applaud the fact that the meeting in Dublin was part of a multilateral plan to tackle a difficult disarmament issue. Success now raises international expectations of powerful governments that have not been at the negotiating table. A broad consensus is emerging around a higher standard of behavior very much in keeping with the rule of law. We look forward to even more states signing the new Cluster Munitions Convention when it opens for signature in Oslo later this year.
"There is a biblical promise in the book of Isaiah that people shall not "learn war" any more, as the WCC statement last February noted. The banning of cluster bombs would be an excellent example of unlearning one type of warfare in our day."
Other campaigners also welcomed the new treaty but also pledged to fight on.
“The cluster bomb treaty is the first major arms control agreement in a decade,” said Lora Lumpe, coordinator of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines. “The majority of world governments have now rendered the use of cluster munitions unthinkable.”
The next steps in the United States, said Lumpe, will be to grow support in Congress for the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act, to persuade all presidential candidates to endorse the treaty negotiated in Dublin, and to challenge the perception in the US military that these weapons are a legitimate part of the stockpile of a civilized nation.
“Despite US meddling, the final treaty is quite strong,” said Human Rights Watch’s Steve Goose, a member of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL) steering committee. “We will be watching very carefully to ensure that the countries that gathered here to ban cluster bombs can never deliberately assist those who have not and that they reject any foreign stockpiling of cluster munitions on their soil.”
The treaty also requires governments to clear existing cluster munition minefields and to provide adequate assistance to individuals and communities affected by cluster munitions. “The victim assistance provisions set a new precedent for survivor rights worldwide,” said Tracey Begley, a program officer with Survivors Corps and a member of the USCBL steering committee. “The treaty recognizes the human rights of victims and acknowledges that victims are not just the individual survivors, but also their families and communities that are affected.”
Churches in the UK have welcomed the new treaty.