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Human Rights Watch Press release
Final Treaty Negotiations Set for Dublin in May 2008
(Wellington, February 22, 2008) – Eighty-two nations endorsed a strongly worded draft treaty on cluster munitions, moving the world closer to a ban on weapons that cause horrific civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch said today at the end of a week of diplomatic talks in Wellington, New Zealand. The push for a comprehensive ban on clusters, which harm civilians during and after conflict, came despite efforts to water down the text by a handful of states with stockpiles of the weapon.
More than 100 states attended the Wellington Conference on Cluster Munitions from February 18-22, 2008 to discuss a draft treaty prohibiting the use, production, stockpiling, and trade of cluster munitions. Eighty-two endorsed the Wellington Declaration, which commits states to participate in the formal negotiations in Dublin, Ireland, from May 19-30, and to conduct the negotiations on the basis of the text developed in Wellington. Others are expected to endorse the declaration ahead of the Dublin meeting.
“It was heartening to see so many governments determined to create a cluster munitions treaty that will make a real difference in saving civilian lives and limbs,” said Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. “All proposals to weaken the draft treaty – most notably by Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom – were rejected.”
However, it is expected that the proposals will be re-considered at the Dublin negotiations and Human Rights Watch urged participants to hold fast to the Wellington text and ensure the creation of an effective treaty.
Cluster munitions are large weapons that release dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions. Air-dropped or ground-launched, they cause two major humanitarian problems. First, their wide-area effect virtually guarantees civilian casualties when they are used in populated areas. Second, many of the submunitions do not explode on impact as designed but lie around like landmines, causing civilian casualties for months or years to come.
One year ago in Oslo, Norway, 46 states agreed to conclude a treaty by the end of 2008 that bans cluster munitions “that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.” The treaty was then developed and discussed in subsequent international meetings in Peru and Austria, as well as regional meetings in Cambodia, Costa Rica, Serbia, and Belgium.
“The Wellington draft treaty is an excellent basis for negotiations,” said Goose. “The agreement to send it on to Dublin for final negotiation without watering it down is a victory for those who want an end to the civilian harm caused by cluster munitions.”
In addition to the ban, the treaty also includes provisions requiring clearance of contaminated areas and assistance to victims.
States affected by clusters, particularly Cambodia, Laos, and Lebanon, spoke out strongly in favor of the Wellington text, as did others in the developing world, notably Indonesia.
About 140 representatives of nongovernmental organizations from 34 countries participated, with particularly compelling testimony provided by cluster munitions survivors.
The attempts to weaken the treaty came in three main issues: efforts to exempt certain types of cluster munitions or technologies from the ban altogether; to have a “transition period” in which the banned weapons could still be used, and to delete or gut a provision that prohibits states from “assisting” with the use of cluster munitions by armed forces that are not part of the treaty (so-called “interoperability” concerns). Some states also pushed to delete a provision that calls on user states to help with the clearance of cluster munitions from conflicts that pre-date the treaty.
The most objectionable proposals for exceptions were put forward by France, Germany, Japan, and Switzerland; for a transition period by Germany and Japan (with notable support from the United Kingdom); and for interoperability by Canada, Germany, and Japan (with notable support from Australia). Other states vocal in their support of provisions to weaken the treaty included the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden.
Despite the fact that none of these proposals were included in the final draft treaty text, all of these states decided to endorse the Wellington Declaration and to participate fully in the Dublin negotiations. Until the last moment, it appeared many would refuse to endorse, and would walk away, as some had privately threatened to do. On the positive side, there was notable movement in the right direction in many of these countries on these and other issues during the course of the week, giving confidence that a strong treaty will emerge from Dublin.
Although many of the main users of cluster munitions, such as Israel, the United States, and Russia, did not attend the conference, 75 percent of the world’s cluster munitions stockpilers were present, and most of the producers and past users.
The treaty process was sparked in part by the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. As documented in a Human Rights Watch report released earlier this week, Israel dropped an alarming 4.6 million submunitions on southern Lebanon during the fighting. Up to 1 million duds failed to explode and remained on the ground as de facto landmines, threatening the lives and livelihoods of civilians.
At least 14 countries and a small number of non-state armed groups have used cluster munitions in at least 30 countries and areas. Thirty-four countries are known to have produced more than 210 different types of air-dropped and surface-launched cluster munitions. At least 13 countries have transferred more than 50 types of cluster munitions to at least 60 countries