US allies fail on bid to water down cluster-bomb ban
Wellington - A group of European countries, backed by Australia and Japan, failed in a bid to water down a draft international agreement to ban cluster bombs during a week-long conference in Wellington which ended Friday.
Led by military allies of the United States in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) they tried to modify key aspects of the draft before it goes to a final negotiating meeting in Dublin in May but succeeded only in having their reservations put on the record.
More than 500 diplomats and independent campaigners from over 100 countries as well as survivors from 38 bombed nations attended the Wellington meeting.
Cluster bombs are weapons dropped from a plane or fired from a gun that open in mid-air scattering dozens or hundreds of smaller 'bomblets' over a wide area indiscriminately so that they do not distinguish between military targets and civilians.
Their failure rate is high, with many not detonating on impact, leaving thousands of unexploded bomblets on the ground like de facto landmines for years after conflicts have ended.
A total of 34 countries are known to have produced over 210 different types of cluster bombs and at least 76 countries have stockpiles, which would have to be destroyed under the international treaty being negotiated.
Cluster weapons were first used in World War II when they were known as 'butterfly bombs' and have since been widely used in at least 24 countries, including Laos in the 1960s, Vietnam and Cambodia, Afghanistan, Africa, Kosovo in 1999, Iraq and Lebanon.
They were last used by Israel in Lebanon in 2006 and Hezbollah retaliated by firing more than 100 Chinese-made cluster munition rockets into northern Israel.
Since then, 173 civilians have been maimed by cluster munitions in Lebanon and 23 have been killed, a third of them children.
The United States and other major weapon-producing nations, including Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel, boycotted the Wellington event.
Germany, France, Britain, Spain and Italy spearheaded a group of so-called like-minded nations which included Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Canada and the Netherlands, as well as Australia and Japan, that pressed for substantial changes to the draft.
Between them, they wanted some types of cluster weapons exempted from the ban, a 10-year delay before it comes into effect and permission for countries signing the treaty to go to war with those who did not and wanted to continue using them.
The argument was so intense that some nations threatened to walk out Thursday night before backing down to accept New Zealand chairman Don MacKay's compromise offer to record their proposals in an appendix called a 'compendium' instead of including them in the draft as they wanted.
The difference was critical, Simon Conway, co-chairman of the Cluster Munition Coalition of 200 campaign organisations worldwide, told reporters.
He said this meant the dissenters would need a two-thirds majority to get any of their proposals inserted into the text at the final negotiation starting in Dublin on May 19, and developing countries, led by African nations who had suffered enormously from cluster weapons, had shown they were determined to stand firm to get a comprehensive ban.
Conway said other affected countries like Laos and Lebanon had joined Nigeria, supported by Indonesia, in demanding the strongest possible treaty with no exceptions.
'This was a victory for the developing world and the African countries particularly,' he said.
Steve Goose, another co-chairman of the coalition, dubbed the meeting a 'rousing success' and said that although what he called the 'problematic states' had promised to continue their fight at Dublin they were moving in the right direction.
New Zealand Disarmament Minister Phil Goff said there were 'strongly held and perverse views' on the issue and absolute unanimity had not been expected.
But he said the differences were narrowed and there was a 'high probability' a comprehensive convention would be finalised at Dublin.
Goff said the Wellington conference had made more progress towards a legally binding international treaty banning cluster munitions in five days than the United Nations had made in five years of talks in Geneva.
He said 82 of the 103 countries that sent diplomats had signed up by the end of the conference to a declaration calling for a ban, adding, 'We believe the majority of remaining countries involved will follow suit.'
Asked what effect a treaty would have on arms producers like the US if they still refused to sign, Goff said, 'There is no country in this world, however big and powerful, that is exempt from the sense of overwhelming public opinion and country opinion in the international community.'
Von: http://news.monstersandcritics.com, 22.02.2008