22 October 2008

South East Asian regional conference highlights leadership of Lao PDR in drive for signature of global cluster munitions ban in Oslo in December

Photos: Stanislas Fradelizi Cluster Munition Coalition calls for regional solidarity with Lao PDR in Oslo(Xiengkhuang, Lao PDR, October 22, 2008) - Under the leadership of Lao PDR, a three-day conference hosted in the most cluster bomb affected province in the world has boosted the global campaign for widespread signature of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a comprehensive international ban to be opened for signature in Oslo on 3 December.Cambodia and Lao PDR committed to signing the treaty in December and Brunei, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam participated in the conference. Vietnam will hold a national workshop on the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Ha Noi on 28-29 October. Thailand, which participated as an observer at the negotiations in Dublin, is considering signature of the convention.As well as Cambodia and Lao PDR, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines adopted the treaty in Dublin and are expected to sign. Australia, which co-sponsored the conference with Norway and UNDP, took the opportunity of the conference to announce its intention to sign the treaty on 3 December in Oslo, recalling the statement by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith to the Australian parliament on 2 December.Australia joined the other donor countries at the conference who have already announced their intention to sign in Oslo. Most if not all of the 107 states that adopted the treaty in Dublin are expected to sign in December and over 50 states have already publicly announced their intention to do so.Representatives from Australia, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan and Norway also participated in the South East Asian Regional Conference on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, as well as representatives of the UN and ICRC. The Cluster Munition Coalition participated actively in the conference with civil society representatives from 12 countries, including 6 from the region.Malaysia and Singapore did not attend the conference. Singapore, which is the only state in the region that continues to produce and offer cluster munitions for export, has not participated in the so-called Oslo Process launched in February 2007 to achieve a global ban on the weapon. The Philippines was also unable to send a delegation to the conference, despite being a strong supporter of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.The Cluster Munition Coalition called on all states in South East Asia to show solidarity with Lao PDR and Cambodia and join these most affected countries in signing the new treaty in Oslo. Widespread signature of the treaty will stigmatise the weapon, making it less likely that any country will ever use it again, either in this region or elsewhere.The conference was held in the Xiengkhuang Province, which had blood-tinted and tragic history with cluster munitions. The province is known as the most bombed province in the most bombed country per capita in the world. The province was bombed by thousands of cluster munitions releasing millions of submuntions. Many of the bombs did not detonate on impact but continue to main and kill, and deny land for productive use until today.The over 100 participants in the conference spent two days discussing all aspects of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and one day visiting projects underway in Lao PDR to clear the widespread contamination, provide risk education for local communities and assist survivors.For more information please contact:Natalie Curtis: Laos no: +856 (0)202 598 547: International no: +44(0)7515 575 174Thai speaker, Susan Walker: Laos no: +856 (0)202 547 2054.Notes to Editors:The problem of cluster bombs in South East Asia:According to UXO-Lao, since 1996 only 364,000 sub-munitions have been cleared in Laos by UXO-Lao. According to Handicap International, some 4,837 people are reported to have been killed or injured by cluster munitions, many decades after the bombing ended. Many others have been killed or injured without being recorded.Between 1964-1973, the US military dropped more than 2.4 million tons of bombs on Laos, including around 270 million cluster bomblets. Overall this was more tonnage than was dropped on Germany and Japan combined during the Second World War. According to Handicap International:

  • At least 26 million submunitions were delivered in Cambodia by some 80,000 cluster munitions between 1969 and 1973;
  • At least 260 million submunitions were delivered in Laos by over 414,000 cluster bombs between 1965 and 1973;
  • Nearly 97 million submunitions were dropped in Vietnam by over 296,000 cluster munitions between 1965 and 1975.
In the Asian region, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Thailand stockpile cluster munitions that are prohibited and will need to be destroyed if they join the Convention.What are cluster bombs?Cluster munitions are large weapons which are deployed from the air and from the ground and release up to hundreds of smaller submunitions. Submunitions released by airdropped cluster bombs are most often called "bomblets," while those delivered from the ground by artillery or rockets are usually referred to as "grenades."What's the problem with this weapon?Air-dropped or ground-launched, they cause two major humanitarian problems and risks to civilians. First, their widespread dispersal means they cannot distinguish between military targets and civilians so the humanitarian impact can be extreme, especially when the weapon is used in or near populated areas. Many submunitions fail to detonate on impact and become de facto antipersonnel mines killing and maiming people long after the conflict has ended. These duds are more lethal than antipersonnel mines; incidents involving submunition duds are much more likely to cause death than injury.Who has used cluster munitions?At least 15 countries have used cluster munitions: Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Georgia, Israel, Morocco, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia (USSR), Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, UK, US, and FR Yugoslavia. A small number of non-state armed groups have used the weapon (such as Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006). Billions of submunitions are stockpiled by some 76 countries. A total of 34 states are known to have produced over 210 different types cluster munitions. More than two dozen countries have been affected by the use of cluster munitions including Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chad, Croatia, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Grenada, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Montenegro, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Uganda, and Vietnam, as well as Chechnya, Falkland/Malvinas, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Western Sahara.Why is a ban on cluster munitions necessary?Simply put, cluster munitions kill and injure too many civilians. The weapon caused more civilian casualties in Iraq in 2003 and Kosovo in 1999 than any other weapon system. Cluster munitions stand out as the weapon that poses the gravest dangers to civilians since antipersonnel mines, which were banned in 1997. Yet there is currently no provision in international law to specifically address problems caused by cluster munitions. Israel's massive use of the weapon in Lebanon in August 2006 resulted in more than 200 civilian casualties in the year following the ceasefire and served as the catalyst that has propelled governments to attempt to secure a legally-binding international instrument tackling cluster munitions in 2008.What is the Oslo Process?In February 2007, 46 governments met in Oslo to endorse a call by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre to conclude a new legally binding instrument in 2008 that prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians and provide adequate resources to assist survivors and clear contaminated areas. Subsequent International Oslo Process meetings were held in Peru (May 2007), Austria (December 2007), and New Zealand (February 2008). 107 countries negotiated and adopted a treaty that bans cluster bombs and provides assistance to affected communities in May 2008 in Dublin.States that adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions (107)Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, Chile, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Lesotho, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia (FYR), Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela and Zambia.CMC Press Release, 22 October 2008