By Dr Arvind Kumar
The cluster bomb ban – officially known as the Convention on Cluster Munitions – has come into force since 1 August this year. Under the terms of this convention, countries that have ratified the treaty are required to cease production of cluster munitions, dispose of stockpiles, and clear contaminated areas.
About two dozen nations, from Afghanistan to Zambia, have been adversely affected by cluster bombs. However, it was Israel’s use of the weapon in Lebanon in August 2006, causing more than 200 casualties over the following year that spurred members of the international community to act.
According to the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), consisting of more than 350 NGOs working in 90 countries, the treaty is “the most significant international disarmament treaty since the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty banning antipersonnel landmines.”
According to CMC’s press release, the following countries have used cluster munitions: Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Georgia, Israel, Libya, Morocco, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, former Yugoslavia, Sudan, the UK and the USA.
Of these, only the UK has signed and ratified the convention, while Morocco, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Serbia and Sudan have taken steps towards signing and ratifying it. The following eight countries are yet to take any action to join it: Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Georgia, Israel, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the USA.
Laos, the most bombed country in the world per capita, strongly backs the treaty. Between 1964 and 1973, the US dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance in a campaign kept hidden from Congress and the public. Since then, According to Legacies of War, a Washington-based group, about 20,000 civilians have been maimed or killed by unexploded bombs in Laos.
After Laos, Vietnam is the world’s second most affected country, followed by Iraq, Cambodia and Nagorno-Karabakh. According to media reports, 107 countries have signed the treaty, 37 of which have ratified it.
The first gathering of the 107 member states will be held in the Laotian capital in November 2010. Israel and the United States are not likely to attend. According to a recent report published in Christian Science Monitor, the US, among others, has argued that cluster bombs are an effective military tool that saves their soldiers’ lives. The US has also argued that it’s shifting to “smart” cluster bombs that self-destruct or deactivate, reducing the risk to civilians.
Such treaties are for the benefit and safe survival of humankind and should be signed and ratified by all countries to make this planet a livable place. One can hope that the forthcoming November meet will spur more countries to sign and ratify this treaty.
By Dr Arvind Kumar