German government calls for armament initiative in favour of alternative cluster munitions (Germany)
NGOs describe government's three-step plan for "renunciation of dangerous cluster munitions" as insufficient
(Berlin ' 23.04.2007) ActionGroup Landmine.de and the aid organisations it represents express their disappointment at the outcome of an expert meeting on current issues concerning international humanitarian law organized under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Montreux (18.-20.04.2007). The action group rejects the three-step plan for "the global renunciation of dangerous cluster munitions" introduced by the German government and describes it as highly insufficient and implausible. The German initiative is addressed to the state parties of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which has failed in its role of forum on cluster munitions for the past five years, and undermines the recent Norwegian Government's initiative for a comprehensive prohibition of cluster munitions.
The three-step approach only provides for the renunciation of "dangerous cluster munitions", thereby allowing so-called "safe cluster munitions" to be used, and calls for an armament initiative in favour of so-called alternative (high-tech) cluster munitions. "We find it all too cynical to talk about safe cluster munitions, all cluster munitions are dangerous", criticizes Thomas Gebauer from medico international. Besides, the government retains the right to use "dangerous" cluster munitions in "emergency cases", further discrediting its own initiative. As Landmine.de points out, the threat posed by such weapons does not just lie in the fact that large areas remain contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO) years after the conflict. As a matter of fact, their use is direct and indiscriminate and therefore in violation of the international humanitarian law. The MLRS rocket launcher (Multiple Launch Rocket System), for example, fires close to 8,000 cluster munitions in one salvo over an area of up to a square kilometre, which amounts to the surface of 200 football pitches.
The action group considers the three-step plan inadequate and denounces the fact that the initiative is said to call for a global renunciation while, in reality, it allows the use of cluster munitions for at least another ten years and does not provide for a ban on the production or export of such weapons. "The initiative of the government, which still maintains interests in an industry offering cluster munitions, serves rather the protection of cluster munitions than that of the civil population in the face of those weapons", says Thomas Küchenmeister from ActionGroup Landmine.de. "The definition of cluster munitions suggested by Germany in Montreux is laced with exceptions, grey areas and technical vagueness", argues Küchenmeister. For instance, exceptions include dispensers containing landmines as well as cluster munitions which stay "inert post impact" and cluster munitions spread in small numbers (less than 10) by one dispenser. Incidentally, Germany has all the aforementioned systems at its disposal and produces them within its borders.
"Clearly, the German government does not deem the taking of special measures to ensure the safety of the civil population in the face of cluster munitions and to provide assistance to victims to be necessary," regrets François De Keersmaecker from Handicap International. Contrary to previous statements on the part of the government, the three-step plan considers the regulations contained in Protocol V to the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to be sufficient. The only obligations cast on the state parties of Protocol V are the marking and removal of explosive remnants of war (ERW), the rest of the regulations being unbinding. As for the assistance desperately needed by countries having to deal with problems associated with cluster munitions, it can only be provided on a voluntary basis. The same applies when it comes to warning the civil population about the presence of explosive remnants of war. The USA, Russia and China have not signed this protocol yet.
Thomas Küchenmeister, director of ActionGroup Landmine.de / AL.de ( +49 (0)175/4964082 or +49 (0)30/32661681),
Francois de Keersmaeker, executive director of Handicap International Germany, member of AL.de's steering committee ( +49 (0)89/547606-14)
Translation by Justine Delloye