The global movement to ban cluster munitions received a big lift last month when forty-six nations at the Oslo Conference agreed on an action plan for “developing a new international treaty on cluster munitions by the end of 2008.”
Neither the United States, China, Russia nor Israel–manufacturers of cluster bombs–were participants in Oslo.
“We have given ourselves a strict deadline for concluding our efforts. This is ambitious, but we have to respond to the urgency of this humanitarian problem,” declared Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Store.
The proposed international treaty would:
“(i) prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians, and
“(ii) establish a framework for cooperation and assistance that ensures adequate provision of care and rehabilitation to survivors and their communities, clearance of contaminated areas, risk education and destruction of stockpiles of prohibited cluster munitions.”
The Oslo Participants planned to continue their work in Lima, Peru in May/June and Vienna in November/December 2007, and in Dublin in early 2008. On March 1, Belgium became the first country to criminalize investment in companies that manufacture cluster bombs and prohibit Belgian banks from owning shares in these companies or offering them credit.
Last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hezbollah lent more urgency to the “ban the bomblets drive.” Israel dropped an estimated four million cluster “bomblets” on Lebanon from rockets, artillery, and airplanes. The United Nations Mine Action Coordination Center of South Lebanon (MACC*SL) estimates that Israel fired 90 percent of these munitions during the last 72 hours of the conflict, when Israel knew that a U.N. Security Council ceasefire was imminent. Most of these bomblets were produced in the United States. Since the ceasefire in August, the U.N. has documented 30 fatalities and 191 injuries so far from unexploded bomblets in orchards, fields, school locales, paths and residential areas of South Lebanon.
Left hidden on the ground, according to the American Task Force for Lebanon (ATFL), “a slight disturbance may cause bomblets to explode. Worse, many bomblets are brightly colored, with others attached to small parachutes, making them look like toys and enticing kids to pick them up.”
The cluster bombs unleashed during the pre-truce hours on South Lebanon sparked press criticism inside Israel and reviews inside the government. The leading Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, reported the following on November 20, 2006:
“Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz plans to appoint a major general to investigate the use of cluster bombs–some of which were fired against his order–during the Lebanon war.”
Still, the Israeli government will not give the United Nations’ field teams, searching for these deadly weapons, the coordinates which identify the cluster bomb strikes in South Lebanon.
Much credit for keeping the issue of cluster munitions before the attention of the State Department and the Congress goes to the American Task Force on Lebanon (ATFL) and its energetic executive director Dr. George Cody. He spent 10 days in Lebanon after the conflict ended to observe the damage and what he called the continuing very high price that Israel imposed on Lebanon and its civilians, many of them children, who continue to be killed and maimed by unexploded Israeli cluster bomblets.
Dr. Cody met with U.N. Battle Area Clearance teams. Chris Clark, the U.N.’s programme manager for the Mine Action Coordination Centre, informed him that the cluster bomb contamination in Lebanon is the worst ever seen, worse than the contamination in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, given the density of these munitions in the afflicted territory.
ATFL’s “Ban the Cluster Bomb” campaign is supporting the Feinstein-Leahy Senate bill 594 which restricts the U.S. use, sale, or transfer of cluster bombs where 1% or more of the munitions fail to detonate on contact.
ATFL has pressed the State Department to find the Israeli government to be in violation of federal law prohibiting sales to countries for offensive purposes. The State Department’s review has been sent to Congress with the conclusion that Israel “may” have violated such prohibitions.
Along with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW) wants a ban because cluster bombs “cannot be directed in a way that distinguishes between military targets and civilians,” thereby violating international humanitarian law prohibiting indiscriminate attacks.
HRW says that 98% of all those killed by cluster bombs are civilians. Its report estimates worldwide approximately 100,000 civilians, many of them children, have been killed or injured since cluster bombs began to be used.
Dr. George T. Cody and ATFL would like you to sign their petition to Congress, President Bush, and the State Department to “Ban the Cluster Bomb,” at their website www.atfl.org.
RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions