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No more cluster bombs

May 29, 2009

Human rights groups gathered in Geneva to kick off a "week of action" to encourage countries to sign and ratify the treaty to ban cluster bombs.

An unexploded US cluster bomb
Many of a cluster bomb's bomblets do not explode immdediately and can maim and kill years later

The action in Geneva comes one year after the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions was negotiated in Ireland. While 96 countries have signed the treaty, including 20 of the 28 NATO members, only seven countries have ratified it.

In order for the treaty to enter into force, it needs to be ratified by 30 nations.

Within Europe, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands rank among the biggest stockpilers with a combined total of just under 96 million cluster bombs. The country with the most bombs by far, 730 million, is the United States, which has not joined the treaty.

"The US is out of step with most of its major military allies," says Human Rights Watch arms division director Steve Goose.

Attitudes changing

A report posted on the Human Rights Watch website notes that there has been "a major shift in global opinion about cluster munitions in recent years, with numerous former users and producers, exporters and stockpilers of the weapon now denouncing it because of the humanitarian harm it causes."

Cluster bombs are either shot from the ground or dropped from airplanes and explode in the air, scattering smaller munitions over an area the size of several football fields. The munitions don't explode on contact with the ground but can be detonated later with a mere touch, which makes them especially dangerous to civilians once a conflict has ended.

According to statistics, one third of all cluster bomb casualties are children.

Currently seventeen countries, including the US, China, Russia and Brazil, produce cluster bombs. The US has already banned their export and campaigners hope that President Barack Obama will now enroll the US in the treaty.

Editor: Susan Houlton