Humanitarian concerns ignored as talks continue on cluster munitions

Revisions to draft new law are minimal and marginal

(Geneva, 21 November 2011): As negotiations on a new law that would expressly allow some countries to continue to use cluster munitions enter the crucial final week, the voice of concerned governments , campaigners, and more than half a million global citizens continues to be ignored.

The draft law, a proposed protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), is being pushed as an alternative to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which comprehensively bans all use, production, trade, and stockpiling of all cluster munitions.  The United States is the main proponent of the draft law, and has support from others that have not yet joined the ban convention, such as China, India, Israel, and Russia. 

After a week of talks which clearly demonstrated a lack of consensus and strong opposition to the current proposal, the Chairman of the negotiations, French Ambassador Eric Danon, presented a new draft protocol text at the end of the day on Friday.  

“After a week of formal negotiations, nothing in the draft text has really changed for the better,” said Steve Goose, chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC). “The revisions have been minimal in number and marginal in substance. As drafted, the protocol will do more humanitarian harm than good, and will fail to address the dangers to civilians posed by cluster munitions,” said Goose. “Any international law that promotes the use of millions of cluster munitions with hundreds of millions of submunitions, like this one does, is a bad law.”

The United States told delegates on Friday that it was going to make a major concession to move the negotiations forward, but then only offered to move one provision—allowing the use of cluster munitions with a claimed failure rate of 1% or less—from one part of the protocol to another. The CMC immediately told delegates that this was “no big deal, no real concession, and devoid of any substantial humanitarian impact,” because those cluster munitions could still be used forever without any restrictions.

“The negotiations began at a standstill, are still deadlocked, and should stay that way. The protocol is bad news for civilians that will suffer from future use, and bad news for international humanitarian law,” said Marion Libertucci of CMC member Handicap International, based in France.  The CMC and International Committee of the Red Cross have said the protocol would be a terrible precedent in international humanitarian law, with states for the first time adopting a treaty with lower standards than one already agreed to by a majority of nations.

Some of the changes give a rhetorical nod to the ban convention as a goal to be strived for, but the CMC finds that none will help to reduce urgently the unacceptable humanitarian harm cluster munitions cause. The revised protocol still allows indefinite use of cluster munitions with one so-called safeguard, such as a self-destruct device, even though such cluster munitions have been demonstrated time and again to cause large numbers of civilian casualties. It still contains a 12-year deferral period where armed forces can use cluster munitions without any safeguard, even though States Parties have agreed these are so dangerous to civilians they must be ultimately be banned.  The revised protocol still does not address in any way one of the gravest dangers of cluster munitions: their indiscriminate, wide-area effect at the time of use.

The negotiations Chairman, Amb. Danon, has indicated that he intends to prepare another revised draft text by the end of the day on Tuesday.  States would then have Wednesday, and possibly Thursday, to try to reach final agreement, before the conference concludes on Friday.

“It does not appear possible to us that negotiators will be able to bridge the vast divides that still exist,” said Roos Boer, Policy Adviser for CMC member IKV Pax Christi in the Netherlands. “Minor tweaks and band-aid fixes such as we saw in the latest revised protocol will not do the trick.  Only a major overhaul could turn this into a law that could have humanitarian benefit,” she added.

Seventy-four of 114 countries that are States Parties of the Convention on Conventional Weapons have already banned cluster munitions through the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  A total of 111 countries have signed or ratified the ban convention. The CMC is urging these states not to back off the ban, and to oppose the adoption of this protocol because, as currently drafted, it would still do more harm than good.   

The CMC has been disturbed by the degree to which a number of the ban convention countries have been trying to facilitate the adoption of this weak, counter-productive protocol, including Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland.  The United Kingdom appears to be active behind the scenes, and Ireland has sent mixed signals.

On Monday morning, as the revised draft was being discussed, cluster bomb survivor and CMC spokesperson Branislav Kapetanovic handed a petition of 581,237 signatures to Amb. Danon, showing  that the world is watching as these talks continue. The petition, launched by Avaaz and the CMC, has been signed by citizens in almost every country. It calls on governments to align any new agreement with the existing ban under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, ensuring this indiscriminate weapon continues to be comprehensively banned, and innocent lives protected.

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