26 May 2008

Progress On Cluster Bomb Treaty But Obstacles Remain

Download Press Release (PDF)(Dublin, Ireland, May 26th, 2008) Strong support for victim assistance but concerns on delays in the ban and joint military operations with the U.S.At the beginning of the final week of diplomatic negotiations on a new treaty to ban cluster munitions, the non-governmental Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) said that it is pleased with the progress made thus far, but that strong concerns remain about efforts by some countries to weaken the treaty. The CMC is the umbrella organization representing civil society at the negotiations and has formal observer status.“Countries around the world have made exceptional progress toward a strong treaty to ban these deadly and indiscriminate weapons,"said Grethe Ostern of Norwegian People’s Aid, and Co-Chair of the CMC. “But some governments seem out of step with the widespread desire for the most comprehensive treaty possible, including the United Kingdom, Japan, Finland, Denmark, and Slovakia,” she added.The CMC is especially concerned about two problematic areas still outstanding. First is the desire of some states to have a “transition period” so that they can continue to use some of their banned cluster munitions for a number of years. Second is the effort by some to insert a provision that would allow treaty signatories to intentionally assist others with the use of cluster munitions in joint military operations, as well as to allow those outside the treaty to indefinitely stockpile cluster munitions on their soil.The United States – which is not present in Dublin—has been applying strong pressure behind the scenes on this joint military operations or “interoperability” issue. The countries pushing hardest for this provision, which would clearly undercut the integrity of the treaty, include the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, and Canada, as well as Denmark, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.The current draft treaty text prohibits any assistance with banned acts, and these countries state that they are only seeking legal protections for their soldiers during joint operations when the U.S. may use cluster munitions."It is vital that we protect our servicemen and women from prosecution as a result of the irresponsible acts of partners in joint military operations, but the articles of the treaty are not there to give a sly nod to those who wish to continue using these indiscriminate weapons,"said Landmine Action’s Simon Conway, former soldier, deminer and Co-Chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition.Certain countries are seeking "transition periods"of some seven to fifteen years during which they would still be able to use banned cluster munitions, claiming that they cannot give up the weapons—which they acknowledge cause unacceptable harm to civilians—until they have filled a perceived military capability gap. The strongest calls for a transition period are coming from Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom."Some states are insisting that they must be able to say: ‘now we ban them, now we don’t.’ In order to protect their existing arsenals, they want to wave a magic wand and un-ban weapons that everyone agrees cause too many civilian casualties,” said Steve Goose, Co-Chair of the CMC and Director of the Arms division at Human Rights Watch.Another area of concern is stockpile destruction, with the insertion of a new clause allowing states to keep a number of cluster munitions for clearance training and other purposes, and the addition of two years (to 8 total) to the destruction deadline.The CMC said that after the first week of talks, states have demonstrated their humanitarian commitment most notably through progress on victim assistance, with groundbreaking provisions mandating such assistance, as well as plans for implementing it and reporting on it. Work on provisions related to clearance of contaminated areas also progressed well, and many states are standing firm on the importance of the obligation of past users to provide support for affected states.Ahmed Najem, CMC member and a cluster bomb survivor from Iraq said: "We really welcome the fact that both donor and affected countries are waking up to their responsibility to provide victim assistance and we are hopeful that this treaty will go way beyond other treaties in terms of humanitarian assistance for affected communities."A total of 109 countries are full participants in the negotiations, and another 20 are observers. The treaty process was launched in Oslo, Norway in February 2007 when 46 nations agreed to conclude a treaty prohibiting cluster munitions "that cause unacceptable harm to civilians"in 2008. The treaty text was developed during international meetings in Peru, Austria, and New Zealand.Banning an entire class of weapon will have an effect well beyond the signatories of the treaty. The stigmatisation of this weapon in practice will extend to all countries stockpiling and using them. Despite the fact that the US, Russia and China did not sign the treaty banning antipersonnel landmines in 1997, there has since been virtually no production, trade or use of the weapon anywhere in the world by governments.The negotiations are scheduled to conclude on Friday, May 30, when the participating states will adopt the final text of the treaty; no further changes can be made after that point. The treaty will then be opened for signature to all countries—even those not present during the negotiations—in Oslo, Norway on December 2-3, 2008. After signing the treaty, countries still need to ratify it, usually through legislative approval, before it becomes fully legally binding.