02 October 2007
CLUSTER BOMB AFFECTED COUNTRIES TAKE OWNERSHIP OF BAN PROCESS WITH UNPRECEDENTED CONFERENCE
Belgrade, 2 October 2007 – The interests and needs of people affected by cluster munitions must be at the heart of the new international treaty to ban these weapons, said Thomas Nash, Coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), on the eve of the Belgrade Conference of States Affected by Cluster Munitions.
20 countries experiencing first-hand the devastating impact of cluster munition use will meet in Belgrade on 3- 4 October with other interested states to ensure that the views, needs and expectations of those affected are central to the new international instrument to be negotiated banning these weapons.
This unprecedented initiative was launched by Serbia, itself affected by cluster munitions as a consequence of the 1999 NATO bombing campaign, when US, British and Dutch forces dropped at least 347,000 submunitions on Serbian territory. Today cluster munition contamination continues to prevent the use and development of several rural areas and some densely populated areas are also affected. Data on NATO cluster bomb strikes was handed over to Serbian authorities only in September this year after public pressure.
Cluster munitions are known to have been used in at least 25 countries and 5 disputed territories, most recently in Lebanon (2006), Iraq (2003) and Afghanistan (2001-2002).
“We know what it means to live through cluster bomb attacks and the consequences of unexploded submunitions, we know the painstaking and dangerous work it takes to clear them, and we know the challenges of assisting those who survive an accident caused by cluster bombs,” said Branislav Kapetanovic, a Serbian clearance expert who lost both legs and arms in an accident while at work in 2000. “We want our governments to take the lead in the ban process to prevent other countries, and other innocent people, from suffering what we have suffered,” he added.
The list of participants in the Conference includes Laos, where the 30-year long experience with cluster contaminations shows how the effects of these weapons can span entire generations; Lebanon, where millions of sub-munitions were littered over wide areas in just 72 hours at the end of the 2006 conflict; as well as the following countries: Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Azerbaijan, Chad, DR Congo, Croatia, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Montenegro, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uganda, Vietnam and Yemen.
It is hoped that discussions in Belgrade will inform international work on victim assistance, clearance and international cooperation and assistance, which will be core elements of the process to develop the new treaty. The next step in the so-called Oslo Process, which was launched in the Norwegian capital last February and aims to conclude a treaty by 2008, will take place in Vienna in December.
“Negotiating a ban treaty is not all about technical issues and military interests. It is first and foremost about protecting human lives,” said Emil Jeremic, Regional Representative of Norwegian People’s Aid in South East Europe. “It is important that affected states take ownership of this process, which has a direct impact on the lives of their own citizens,” Jeremic added, calling on affected states still outside the ban process to give their support.