Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Church leaders have welcomed the passing of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act in parliament yesterday (23 March).
The Act ensures that the UK military cannot use cluster munitions, nor can UK military establishments house cluster bombs for other nations.
The three churches have been campaigning for this change for the last two years. They said that they were pleased to note the all-party support for the Act, which they attribute to strong public support for banning these weapons.
“Five years ago this issue was nowhere on the international political scene,” said Rev Jonathan Edwards, General Secretary of the Baptist Union, “We added our voice to the growing call to ban these weapons because our faith reminds us of the importance of every life”.
Cluster munitions contain many bomblets, small objects typically the size of a drinks can, which explode spreading shredded metal around the surrounding area. Sometimes bomblets fail to explode, meaning unexploded bombs are left at the scene of armed conflict.
The passing of the Act means the UK can ratify the international treaty banning cluster munitions. The number of ratifying countries recently reached thirty, meaning that the treaty will come into force in August. It bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions, and requires countries to assist survivors and affected communities.
It is hoped that the UK’s ratification of the treaty will encourage others to take similar action. Certain powerful countries, including the USA, have not signed the treaty.
“These weapons are indiscriminate, harming civilians and soldiers alike, and can lay dormant, only to explode years later,” explained the Rev John March, Moderator the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church.
He added that “It is vital that when a war ends, it truly ends. Unexploded bombs must never maim children after armies have stopped fighting. ”
Rev Dr Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church, insisted that the Bill had wide implications that its moral significance “cannot be overstated”.
He said, “It builds upon widespread recognition of key ethical principles that are enshrined in international humanitarian law. When ensuring our own security we must recognise the importance of adhering to these principles.”