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Global Push To Ban Cluster Bombs At Crossroads

18th February 2008

Global Push To Ban Cluster Bombs At Crossroads

Governments called upon to keep protection of civilians at forefront of negotiations

Wellington, 18 February 2008 – At the opening of a five-day conference to develop a historic treaty banning cluster munitions, the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) called on governments to keep humanitarian concerns at the top of the agenda by rejecting efforts to weaken the treaty with exceptions, delays or loopholes. The Wellington Conference on Cluster Munitions represents a crucial crossroads where states must either formally commit to negotiate the prohibition on cluster munitions or opt of out the process which is set to secure the most significant advances in disarmament since the 1997 treaty banning antipersonnel mines.

"After a year of remarkable progress to save lives this is the moment of truth when countries must show their resolve and commit to negotiate the new treaty that will ban cluster bombs this year," said Thomas Nash, Coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition.

More than 500 representatives from over 100 governments as well as campaigners and survivors of cluster bombs from 38 countries are gathering in New Zealand today for the penultimate meeting of the Oslo Process. This global effort initiated by Norway is set to culminate with the adoption in Dublin in May 2008 of a treaty to ban cluster munitions, assist survivors and ensure clearance of their land. The Oslo Process has drawn the support of two-thirds of the world's nations.

At the end of this week's conference countries will be expected to support the 'Wellington Declaration' to formalise their commitment to conclude a new treaty by the end of 2008.

Even after a year of treaty preparations, new countries continue to join the ban community for the first time, including Pacific states such as Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.

However countries such as France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom have been exerting diplomatic pressure to weaken the draft treaty in three main ways: to exclude certain weapons from the ban; to include a transition period when banned weapons could still be used; and to accommodate "interoperability" concerns – the possible use of cluster munitions in joint military operations by other countries that may not sign the treaty.

"Countries serious about saving lives will support the strong draft treaty before them. The lesson from the campaign to ban landmines is that the treaty must not be weakened to pander to the interests of users, producers and stockpilers," said Human Rights Watch's Steve Goose, Co-Chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition.

Rather than protecting civilian populations certain countries are seeking to protect their own stockpiles through exclusions from the ban. Some promote technical fixes such as self-destruct mechanisms even though all available evidence refutes their legitimacy. The burden of proof must be on governments to justify any exclusions on the basis that they do not have the indiscriminate and landmine-like effects of cluster munitions.

"Research shows that even cluster bombs with self-destruct mechanisms can have a failure rate up to ten times what producers claim. Technical fixes are just not credible," said Norwegian Peoples Aid's Grethe Østern, Co-Chair of the CMC.

The draft cluster munition treaty contains the strongest ever victim assistance provisions in a humanitarian or disarmament instrument and extensive clearance obligations. Like the Mine Ban Treaty, these provisions are critical in rebuilding lives and communities affected by cluster munitions. However some states are reluctant to agree to provisions that would oblige them to take responsibility for past use.
I lost my arms and legs to a cluster bomb. I call on countries to put the needs of affected communities before all other considerations. All countries, especially past users, must support clearance efforts and assist survivors," said Branislav Kapetanovic, spokesperson for the CMC and a former military deminer in Serbia.

The Aotearoa New Zealand Cluster Munition, coordinated by Oxfam New Zealand, is providing civil society support to the CMC at the Wellington Conference. This meeting is the largest multilateral disarmament gathering that the New Zealand government has ever hosted.

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