Why Canada should take stronger action against cluster munitions (Canada)
They look like sweets scattered in the sky," said one survivor. "You don't realize what they are until they touch you. You don't know until they make you bleed."
A single cluster bomb packs thousands of the small explosives, each with enough explosive punch to kill. Dropped from the air or fired from artillery, they spread over a wide area, and if that area has civilians, some of them are sure to die.
Not all bomblets explode on impact. Some bounce to earth, undetected until they are picked up or stepped on-then they explode on contact.
Like landmines, "they are objects of death whose characteristic is that of never being seen," Portuguese author Pedro Rosa Mendes once wrote. "They wait their entire life and are born for only a second to die with you."
An 11-year-old girl from Lebanon, Zahra, mistook a cluster bomblet dropped in the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah for a toy. She'll live the rest of her life with just one hand.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions seeks to make Zahra's the last generation of cluster bomb survivors. Signed by 93 states last week in Oslo, the convention bans the use, transfer, stockpiling and production of cluster munitions and contains groundbreaking provisions to help victims earn a livelihood despite debilitating disabilities.
But the US, Russia and Israel, as well as other major users and producers, refused to participate in the conference, and in August, Russia and Georgia used cluster bombs in South Ossetia, adding another region to the 31 countries already littered with the deadly weapons. In Laos, for example, playgrounds, farmlands and forests are littered with 40-year-old "bombies" hiding amongst rocks and in vegetation, still left from US airstrikes.
Yet despite the absence of major users and producers in Oslo, we can still expect the new treaty to be effective. Although the same major powers have yet to sign the 1997 Ottawa Convention banning antipersonnel landmines, there are fewer landmine casualties each year due to clearance operations and risk education across the globe. What's more, although the US, for example, has not signed the Ottawa Convention, they abide by it: the US has not used landmines since 1991 and has not produced new landmines since 1997.
When Russia and Georgia used cluster bombs in South Ossetia, the international condemnation set a powerful precedent. The new treaty has already stigmatized the use of cluster bombs. From now on, states that use and produce cluster munitions will be denounced by a global community that has turned away from the use of these weapons.
Although these major users and producers grabbed headlines, the real story is who was in Oslo to sign the treaty. Canada's ambassador to Norway, Jillian Stirk, signed on behalf of Canada while Mines Action Canada and other civil society representatives looked on. We can be proud that our government was in Oslo for that historic moment.
Yet unlike its role in the Ottawa Convention, Canada failed to show a leadership in treaty negotiations or in encouraging other nations to sign. Canada's presence at the signing conference is perhaps an historic moment that would not have been possible without persistent advocacy on the part of Mines Action Canada and other organizations. In turn, Mines Action Canada could not do this vital work without support of the regular Canadians.
One way regular people have shown their support for the ban on cluster bombs is through the People's Treaty, a global petition that already has over 150 000 signatures from citizens around the world. Although the signing conference is over, you can still sign on at minesactioncanada.org/peoplestreaty. By signing, you can help Mines Action Canada show our government that Canadians are watching and Canadians want strong action against cluster bombs.
The signing conference was an historic moment, and one we can celebrate, but cluster bomblets still litter the ground in Lebanon, where Zahra lives, in Afghanistan, where Canadian soldiers walk and in Laos, where 40 years later, bomblets still make war every day. The fight to save lives has only just begun.
The Canadian government can and should do more. Let's demand that Canada show its commitment to the new treaty by ratifying it and by helping to fund cleanup efforts from Laos to Lebanon.
Let's also demand that Canada destroy its stockpile of cluster munitions immediately. We must demand transparency, and make it an event for all to see: an explosion that extinguishes the possibility that the weapons could ever take a life or a limb. This explosion will be colourful, but there will be no blood. There will be just hope. V
Liz Whitehurst is People's Treaty Mobilization Coordinator at Mines Action Canada, but she's not actually Canadian. She's from the US and she's hoping Obama will show he's serious about change by signing the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Von: 11.12.2008, Liz Whitehurst / minesactioncanada.org, www.vueweekly.com