America and Russia are two major holdouts in the signing of a landmark agreement banning cluster bombs which both nations have used in the past with lethal effect to kill and maim children in Afghanistan.
Britain – a convert to the treaty – is among the 107 nations committed to signing the treaty which opened for signature today in Oslo. It was the result of a determined “coalition of the willing” whose campaign to ban the bombs began after Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
According to the UN, the Israeli cluster bombs used in that conflict scattered 4,000,000 bomblets which can be triggered by children attracted to their bright colours.
However, cluster bombs have been used in recent conflicts despite the drive to ban them. Both Russia and Georgia – equipped by Israel – are accused of having used cluster bombs in the Georgia conflict last summer. According to Human Rights Watch, the bombs, which fire dozens of bomblets when detonated, killed 17 civilians during the brief, bloody war and wounded dozens more.
“Today we confirm that cluster bombs are banned for ever,” said Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg as he opened the conference in Norway, the nation leading the movement. “Banning cluster bombs took too long. Too many people lost arms and legs.”
The next to sign today were Laos – another convert which has had to deal with 400,000 unexploded munitions – and Lebanon. The treaty will come into effect once ratified by 30 nations.
The campaign was inspired by the successful drive to ban landmines, which went outside the UN with the support of non-government organisations to deliver a treaty in 1997. This was despite strong resistance from a group of states which wanted to keep the weapons.
Campaigners hope that the cluster bomb treaty holdouts will be shamed into restricting their use or observing a moratorium, as happened with the 1997 Ottawa treaty. The notable holdouts on cluster bombs – Russia, the US, China and Israel – are the same nations who refused to sign the Ottawa pact.