Delegates to an international Cluster Munitions Conference in Wellington in February are hoping their work in drafting a ban on the use of cluster bombs will be ratified next month in a further conference in Dublin.
More than 500 delegates from 122 countries attended the week-long conference which was initiated two years ago in Oslo. Then the Norwegian Government, impatient with slow progress after five years of talks, declared its intention to set up a process to devise a new ban treaty. In 2006 the Ottawa Treaty banning the use of land mines was already 10 years old.
The Wellington conference stemmed from the Oslo Declaration early in 2007 when a group of States, UN organisations, Red Cross and the Cluster Munitions Coalition, among others, agreed that ‘by 2008 a legally binding international instrument will prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions …’
Cluster munitions kill and injure civilians at the time of use because they indiscriminately scatter explosives over such a wide area. Many of the bomblets or submunitions fail to explode on impact but continue to kill and injure civilians long after conflict. Eye injuries are the most common.
First used in 1943
The first cluster bombs were used by Soviet forces against German armour in the Second World War and the English port of Grimbsy suffered from a drop of more than 1000 SD-2 butterfly bombs in the same year.
Since then, 14 countries have used cluster munitions in almost 40 countries or territories. In 2003, in Iraq, the USA and the UK used almost 13,000 cluster munitions containing 248,056 bomblets.
A year later, Israel used surface-launched and air-dropped cluster munitions containing up to 4.6 million bomblets covering a wide area of Southern Lebanon. Seventy countries have stockpiles of these weapons, the submunitions estimated to number in their billions.
Teams of the New Zealand Defence Force have been painstakingly helping other UN personnel in South Lebanon to clear the many millions of these small, unexploded bombs still littering the olive groves and countryside.
Some research in SE Asia suggests 60 percent of those killed or injured by unexploded cluster munitions are children; boys aged five to 15 years are the most vulnerable.
As well, it was recognised that there needed to be provision for the care and rehabilitation of survivors and their communities and the ongoing clearance of contaminated areas.
Risk education and the safe destruction of huge numbers of remaining stockpiles are a priority.
New Zealand and the Vatican are among a group of core nations driving the cluster munitions ban and regional conferences have been held in countries as diverse as Peru, Serbia and Austria.
The rise to 136 as the number of countries at the Vienna Conference in 2007 from the 46 attending the initial meeting in Oslo a scant year earlier, can only show the strength of the desire to see off these particularly nasty weapons.
As well as government-level officials, the Wellington conference attracted numerous civil organisatons such as the Red Cross and Pax Christi. Notable absences were the USA, India, Pakistan and Israel.
A Māori welcome, led by Sam Jackson of Te Atiawa, made a deep impression on delegates. Many referred to the powhiri in their speeches and often quoted the apt words from the waiata, ‘fly straight, as you fly around the world to do what is right’.
Pacific nations in solidarity
During the conference, the small Pacific States came together to express their agreement for the ban and issued a combined statement in establishing a ‘Pacific Friends of the Affected Countries’ to give both material and moral support to those aflicted by these munitions.
Dublin will be the setting for the final conference next month, where it is hoped the Wellington Declaration will be agreed to in full and ratified. But if certain key nations are not party to it, how will that affect the outcome? With so many in favour, it can only be a matter of time before these ‘rogue’ nations accept the humanity of a complete ban.
On the Saturday following the conference, a small group of civil society delegates were welcomed onto the Tapu Te Ranga Marae. There they presented a cheque for $6500 to assist the marae with its conservation project on the hills behind.
The money was raised by the Cluster Munitions Coalition and donations made by others to offset carbon emissions generated by their travel to New Zealand. Some of the land for the project was gifted to the marae by the Sisters of Compassion whose Home of Compassion is a next-door neigbour.