19 March 2007


(London 19 March 2007) – Less than a month after joining 45 other countries in a commitment to ban cluster munitions by 2008, the UK has announced it is banning the use of ‘dumb’ cluster munitions with immediate effect. However the UK has said that it will retain the use of its Israeli manufactured M85 bomblets with self-destruct mechanisms, and is claiming that these are “smart” despite the fact that the same munitions failed in huge numbers in Lebanon in 2006.

“This new step adds the UK to the growing list of governments taking action to back up their commitment to a new treaty banning these weapons,” said Thomas Nash Coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition, the London-based global alliance of 200 NGOs campaigning against these weapons. “These weapons have been killing and injuring civilians for decades and every step like this one today from the UK brings us closer to ending that suffering forever.”

In Oslo last month the UK joined allies Germany, France, Italy, Canada and others in committing to conclude an international treaty to “prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.” The new process to achieve this international treaty was spearheaded by Norway after the failure of arms talks at the Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva last November. The next meeting on the road to cluster bomb treaty will be held in Lima, Peru from 23-25 May where discussions are expected to begin on the shape of the new legal instrument.

The Cluster Munition Coalition is calling on all states to adopt a moratorium while this treaty is negotiated. Since the initiative was launched Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina have renounced cluster munitions through a moratorium; Canada has announced it is destroying its stockpile of remaining cluster munitions and Cambodia has joined the historic initiative bringing the number of states to 47, including half the world’s producers of cluster bombs. The announcement by the Defence Secretary that the UK will ban the use of rocket and air delivered cluster munitions with immediate effect is highly significant, since these same weapons have been responsible for countless civilian deaths and injuries in the past.

“We are pleased that the UK is now taking concrete action on this issue,” said Simon Conway, Director of Landmine Action and Co-Chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition. “However there is no agreed definition of what constitutes dumb versus smart and if Ministers are serious in their commitment to protect civilians they should acknowledge that adding a self-destruct mechanism to a bomb does not makes it smart. Southern Lebanon is littered with Israeli bomblets with self-destructs that failed. In my view smart means precision guided and the cluster munitions that the UK wants to retain are not precision guided. As long as the UK retains them, the unacceptable threat to civilians will remain.”

The artillery launched cluster munitions that the UK refuses to ban were produced by Israeli Military Industries and imported by the UK. Despite claims by manufacturers and states that these are modern and do not pose the same problems as other cluster munitions, the same weapons have already taken an unacceptable toll on civilian lives and livelihoods. Despite being fitted with self-destruct mechanisms designed to reduce the threat after a conflict, M85 submunitions have posed problems in every conflict in which they have been used. Human Rights Watch recorded M85 submunitions unexploded in residential areas of Baghdad and Basra after being used by US and UK forces during the war in 2003. The UN stated last year that it is finding large numbers of unexploded M85 submunitions with self-destruct mechanisms after being used by Israel during the conflict with Hezbollah. Civilian casualties have been recorded both in Iraq and in Lebanon in areas contaminated by M85 submunitions.

“The government has said that withdrawing these ‘dumb’ cluster bombs will pose a ‘very small but acceptable risk’ to British troops. Likewise withdrawing the M85 cluster munitions would pose no greater risk to British troops, but would greatly reduce the humanitarian risk to civilians in future conflicts,” said Conway.