When you’re a member of a club that includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Russia, China, Equatorial Guinea, and Turkmenistan, you may very well be doing something you shouldn’t be doing. And that is the motley crew the United States finds itself alongside in refusing to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international treaty prohibiting the use, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster bombs.
Cluster bombs scatter hundreds of fist-sized “bomblets” over a large area. But up to 30 percent of the bomblets don’t explode, which means they litter war zones for years after the bombing is done. They are then often accidentally detonated by civilians — including curious children who pick them up thinking they’re toys. In Vietnam alone, as many as 300 people are still killed every year by them. Some 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos in the 1960s and 70s, which means there are as many as 80 million bomblets that may have been left unexploded. Up to 4 million cluster submunitions were dropped in Lebanon by Israel in 2006, meaning as many as 1.2 million may have been left unexploded.
The numbers of civilian casualties cluster bombs cause even decades after being dropped — often more than are killed by land mines — ought to mean that cluster munitions are relegated to a bygone era of indiscriminate war. Their continued use is met with almost universal revulsion, and the Convention on Cluster Munitions banning their use has 113 signatories. Even countries that haven’t signed the treaty are still bound by customary international humanitarian law, specifically that “the use of weapons which are by nature indiscriminate is prohibited.”
Six million square meters of land can again be used for farming, infrastructure and housing in Lebanon now that DanChurchAid’s landmine clearance teams have removed the dangerous remnants of war.
Lebanon has been devastated by conflicts and war for much of recent history, and it is still beset by the remains that are left behind when the battles cease.
DanChurchAid has helped the Lebanese authorities to clear up and to make the land safe since 2007.
The year before, a conflict broke out once more with Israel which resulted in large parts of southern Lebanon being bombed with cluster bombs. The result was thousands of unexploded cluster bombs in back gardens, on fields and roads. Other parts of the country have problems with land mines from the civil war that devastated Lebanon from 1975 to 1990.
A poster for Handicap International’s “Fashion Victim” campaign. The group says some countries continue to use landmines and cluster bombs, which leave many innocent victims in their wake. (CNW Group/Handicap International)
They have been called “weapons of mass destruction in slow motion” and have killed or maimed hundreds of thousands over the past century.
Today, landmine accidents claim about 12 lives per day in over 80 countries and territories around the world. There are an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 landmine survivors globally—most of whom are innocent civilians who have lost limbs or suffer permanent disability from their injuries.
Anti-landmine group Handicap International Canada aims to change these grim statistics with its new “Fashion Victim” campaign, which raises awareness of the ongoing use of landmines and cluster bombs and the many innocent victims they leave in their wake.
The victims have been children playing outdoors, pedestrians walking down the street, workers pressing olive oil, and even families in their homes. While the world has been focused on whether the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, the Syrian government’s extensive use of cluster bombs has done devastating harm to civilians over the past year.
The town of Talbiseh, near Homs, has been repeatedly attacked with cluster bombs. After witnessing one cluster bomb strike a local inhabitant told Human Rights Watch, “I heard people screaming. I ran toward them and found out that one of the streets where the bomblets dispersed had people in it at the time. When I reached the house, I saw heavily wounded children inside. After helping out the injured we found three people killed in one of the nearby houses. They were from the same family.”
Dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground, cluster munitions break open in mid-air to disperse dozens and sometimes hundreds of small bomblets, also called submunitions. Concern over civilian casualties in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere from cluster munition attacks and their remnants led these and other countries to comprehensively ban these weapons in 2008. Yet Syria is not among the 112 nations that have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
US Department of Defence has authorised $641m worth of the controversial weapons to be sent to Saudi Arabia.
More than 40 countries have outlawed cluster bombs due to their long-term impacts on civilians [AFP]
Arms control advocates are decrying a new US Department of Defence announcement that it will be building and selling 1,300 cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, worth some $641m.
The munitions at the heart of the sale are technically legal under recently strengthened US regulations aimed at reducing impact on civilian safety, but activists contend that battlefield evidence suggests the weapons actually exceed those regulations.
Opponents say the move runs counter to a strengthening push to outlaw the use of cluster bombs around the world while also contradicting recent votes by both the US and Saudi governments critical of the use of these munitions.