Government leaders from more than 100 states signed a global ban on the use of cluster bombs on Wednesday. The munitions are blamed for thousands of civilian deaths.
Children often think 'bomblets' that don't explode on impact are toys
The treaty signed in Oslo on Wednesday, Dec. 3, was negotiated in Dublin in May. It bans the production, use and trade of cluster munitions.
Cluster weapons are criticized for carrying a high risk of maiming or killing civilians. They can be launched from the air or via artillery shells and disperse hundreds of bomblets over a target area.
"We are prohibiting a type of weapon that kills innocent people years after conflicts have ended," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote in an article for German daily Frankfurter Rundschau with his British counterpart David Miliband.
Children are victims
Children are often victims of the weapons since they sometimes mistake the so-called bomblets for toys.
Unexploded cluster bombs can become land mines
"The world is a safer place today. This is the biggest humanitarian treaty of the last decade," Richard Moyes of the Cluster Munitions Coalition, an umbrella group of some 300 non-governmental organizations, told AFP news service.
Norway, which played a key role in hammering out the agreement, was the first country to sign the deal.
Some countries abstain
Several non-governmental organizations and humanitarian groups have pushed for the ban. However, the world's largest producers and users of cluster bomb munitions -- the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan -- are not signatories of the treaty.
In Europe, Finland, Poland, Latvia, Greece, Cyprus and Romania failed to sign the treaty; they are the only European Union members not to do so. The EU is currently drafting a legally binding ban of its own that would include the entire 27-country bloc.
Like land mines, cluster munitions are deadly not only during conflicts but also for years after violence has ended. Inside a single bomb hundreds of bomblets, which are designed to spread over a wide target area, often fail to explode on impact and countries have a difficult job finding and clearing land of what become de-facto land mines.
Convention expected to help
But although they kill and maim over long periods, and primarily claim civilian lives, cluster munitions have so far been neither banned nor regulated by an international treaty.
The convention signed in Oslo outlaws the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions.