31 March 2008

A Strong African Voice Is Needed

Livingstone (Zambia) - 31 March 2008 - At the start of the first ever African meeting to ban cluster munitions, Robert Mtonga, representative of the Cluster Munition Coalition in Zambia, appealed to all 40 African states attending the conference to unite their voices and send out a strong message to the rest of the world that Africa wants a comprehensive ban treaty at the negotiations to take place in Dublin this May. "Too often Africa's voice is pushed to the margins in international decision making. But in banning cluster bombs worldwide, a common African voice will speak volumes and win the day."Tesfay Haileselassie from Mekele in Ethiopia is still treating today the children who were injured by cluster munition strikes that killed or maimed 54 children in June 1998. "Each day, when I see these children, who lost a leg or are maimed, I feel as if the school, that was hit twice, is still burning and I still dream about that. The cluster munition survivors are still suffering from a lack of medical treatment.""Africa knows all too well the effects of war on people," says Margaret Orech Arach, a CMC campaigner and land mine survivor from Uganda. "Africa must stand together to ensure survivors of cluster bombs and their communities have their needs met by this treaty."Thomas Nash, coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition, recognizes that Africa has now an opportunity to stand as a bulwark against the efforts of certain states – mainly producers and stockpilers - to weaken the treaty. "Right now we need Africa's strength, wisdom and united voice to ensure we get a treaty with no exemptions, no delays and no loopholes."Note to the editor:The meeting, part of the so called Oslo Process launched in February 2007, will take place in Livingstone, Zambia from 31st March - 1st April 2008. The aim of the meeting is to ensure the maximum African representation possible at the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions from May 19-30 where a historic ban will be negotiated and concluded. The Dublin Conference will result in the most significant disarmament treaty of the decade.African nations have taken a strong stand on securing a treaty that will not only ban the production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs, but also provide support for survivors and clearance of their land. To date, nineteen African countries have formally endorsed the Wellington Declaration, the basis for negotiations in Dublin. These include: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda and Zambia.So far in the Oslo Process African states have stressed the need for a comprehensive ban with a definition of cluster munitions that allows for no exceptions. African nations have also supported far reaching obligations for states to provide assistance with clearance and support to survivors, with a particular obligation on countries that have used cluster munitions in the past. The African voice has become ever more prominent in the international discussions on cluster munitions and the continent looks set to play a critical role at the negotiations in Dublin.Cluster bombs have been used in over 30 countries and territories worldwide including Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola, Chad, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Eritrea, as well as Western Sahara. Egypt and South Africa have produced cluster bombs and at least 14 African countries stockpile the weapons. During a meeting in Belgrade in October 2007, Uganda became the first African country to declare it would destroy its stockpiles. Uganda has since announced that it will host a pan-African meeting after the Dublin negotiations to rally support for signature of the treaty in Oslo in December 2008. The African continent was and remains ravaged by the scourge of anti-personnel landmines and by stemming proliferation now this new global effort provides the opportunity to prevent an even greater humanitarian crisis before it happens.The Cluster Munition Coalition is an international network of over 250 civil society organisations in 60 countries committed to protecting civilians from the effects of cluster munitions. Members of the CMC network work together on an international campaign calling on governments to conclude a new international treaty banning cluster munitions by 2008. More information on the CMC is available online at http://www.stopclustermunitions.org <http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/>Closing press conference to be confirmed.For further information or to schedule an interview, please call: Thomas Nash +00447711926730, Robert Mtonga in Zambia +260 (0)977 842 922, Hildegarde Vansintjan in Zambia +260 (0)955 987731 or +32 (0)485 111 460, Samantha Bolton +41 79 2392366.Suggested interviewees:Dr. Robert E. Mtonga, Zambia - Representative of both the Cluster Munition Coalition and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Bob has been at all of the governmental negotiations on cluster bombs over the past year, liaising with African governments on their positions. Born in 1965 in Lusaka, with a medical degree from the University of Zambia.Boubine Toure, Senegal - Senegal-based Cluster Munition Coalition campaigner and member of the International Campaign to ban landmines. (Language: French/English)Tesjay Haileslassie, Ethiopia - On 5 June 1998 two Eritrean bombers dropped cluster munitions on a school in Mekele. There were many people in the school. A bomber came back a second time, causing a large number of casualties (at least 272). Mr. Haileselassie is an Orthopaedic Technologist in Mekele Orthofysiotherapy Center, working with survivors of cluster munitions, landmines and other weapons.Margaret Orech Arach, Uganda - Land mine survivor and campaigner to ban cluster bombs. Margaret Orech Arach lost her leg in 1998 when a bus she was travelling in hit an anti-vehicle mine during a Lord's Resistance Army ambush. Since 2000 she has lobbied tirelessly for greater assistance to landmine survivors and people with disabilities. Director of the Uganda Landmine Survivors Association, Orech is a commissioner for the Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa coalition, a board member of Uganda's National Council for Disability and a partner in the Uganda Mine Action Center. A single mother with five children, Orech was born in 1956.Thomas Nash - Cluster Munition Coalition Coordinator.(Language: English / French / Spanish)