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Wellington Conference on Cluster Munitions Threat

Wellington Conference to Address Cluster Munitions Threat

Op-Ed By Phil Goff

Next week in Wellington the New Zealand Government is hosting an international conference on a treaty to prevent humanitarian disasters created by cluster munitions. We hope that this conference will sufficiently progress discussions to enable, later this year, the adoption of a legally binding treaty prohibiting the use of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

In 2006, the war in Southern Lebanon between Hizbollah and the Israeli Defence Force left more than one million unexploded bomblets from cluster munitions.

The legacy of that war, long after it has ended, are thousands of hectares of land where human beings are at risk of being killed and maimed by unexploded munitions. Over the last 18 months more than 173 civilians have been injured and 20 killed. More than a third of the casualties are children. The social and economic cost of being unable to use the land is also huge.

New Zealand soldiers over the last year have been working in Lebanon alongside others in the international community to clear the bombs, just as they have in the past in areas like Laos, Cambodia, Mozambique and Afghanistan.

But instead of having to respond after the event to reduce the impact on human lives of unexploded bombs, we believe that we should address the cause of the problem rather than simply treat its symptoms.

It has been hugely frustrating that the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons which was the mechanism for dealing with this issue has for a number of years made no progress. Its efforts have been frustrated by those who possess and use cluster bombs and who are opposed to prohibition or restriction on their use.

As a result, seven core states, New Zealand, Norway, Austria, Peru, Mexico, The Holy See and Ireland, which had been pressing for a mandate to restrict the use of cluster munitions determined that it was necessary to take the process outside of the CCW framework.

At a conference last February in Oslo we launched the Oslo Process that committed participating countries to conclude by 2008 a new treaty prohibiting cluster munitions “that cause unacceptable harm to civilians”. Two subsequent conferences have been held in Lima and Vienna

The fourth conference, which around 400 delegates from over 100 countries, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations will attend, meets in Wellington next week.

The Wellington meeting will play a pivotal role in refining key issues, including the scope of the prohibition and definition of the munitions to be outlawed. It will produce a working treaty draft document for a full diplomatic negotiating conference to take place in Dublin this May which will finalise and adopt the new Convention.

A “Wellington Declaration” will be a statement of intent which will provide a bridge through to Dublin and the final treaty.

The meeting will be chaired by New Zealand’s Ambassador for Disarmament, Don Mackay, who is based at the United Nations in Geneva.

New Zealand does not possess cluster munitions. It will not acquire them and it does not and will not use them. We and others pressing for action on cluster munitions do however periodically work alongside countries on UN-mandated peacekeeping missions which do have cluster munitions. This includes our current commitment in Afghanistan. To walk away from such missions as some advocate would do nothing to eliminate the use of cluster munitions but would reduce our ability to provide essential security and stability for local people as we are doing successfully in Bamyan Province.

The challenge before us is to build agreement among a sufficient mass of countries, including those who do possess cluster munitions, around the nature and form of a legally binding instrument to stop unacceptable harm to civilians. Achieving consensus among many countries with disparate views is never easy.

To have a real impact, the treaty will need to be of a sufficiently high quality to stop the use of cluster munitions in circumstances where there is unacceptable harm to civilians and to win the support of a sufficient number of countries to translate that intent into reality.


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