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Cluster bombs banned

August 1, 2010

Cluster bombs have been banned by an international convention that came into force on August 1. Germany is among 108 countries who have signed up, but there are still some major military powers missing from the list.

Mine clearance underway in Lebanon
Unexploded devices can pose a danger for civilians for decadesImage: Organisation mag/MA Group Lebanon

An international convention banning cluster bombs came into force on Sunday, August 1. So far over 100 countries have signed the treaty, and 38 countries, including Germany, have ratified it.

"This is a milestone on the path to a universal ban of inhumane weapons. And it’s an unmistakeable sign that arms reduction is possible," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.

"It's also an encouragement to strive for arms reduction in other fields," he added.

Westerwelle also called on all those countries that haven't ratified the treaty yet, to "join the ban on cluster bombs as soon as possible."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the swift entry into force of the new convention highlights "the world's collective revulsion at these abhorrent weapons."

Indiscriminate weapons

Cluster bombs are considered to be particularly insidious. They are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, or missiles and can scatter over vast areas. Tens of thousands have died as a result of unexploded devices, which can remain hidden for years. They often go off only when they are discovered by children or farmers in fields. According to Handicap International, 98 percent of those who are injured by cluster bombs are civilians, some decades after war has ended.

Bombs found in Lebanon
Various types of cluster bomb were used by Israel in LebanonImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The new convention outlaws the use, development, production, storage and distribution of cluster bombs. Germany says it will destroy its cluster bomb stock by 2015. Austria and Spain have already paved the way.

To date the bombs have been used in over 20 countries. During the Vietnam war 400,000 cluster bombs were dropped on Laos alone. The treaty also means that countries will have to help victims to deal with the medical and psychological effects of the weapons.

Not everyone has signed up

Bombs on the ground, circled by mine clearers
Many victims are children who discover the unexploded bombs whilst playingImage: Organisation mag/MA Group Lebanon

However, major military powers, notably the US, Russia and China are not signatories of the convention. But according to Paul Vermeulen of Handicap International, these countries cannot ignore such strong international condemnation of cluster bombs.

"A convention like this stigmatises a whole style of weaponry and that's incredibly powerful. We observe that all states have changed their attitudes," he said.

Even though the ban is now in force, it will be decades before some countries are free of cluster bombs. The first conference for those who have signed the convention will take place in Laos in November. There the countries will discuss an action plan, to ensure the treaty is put into force effectively.

Author: Joanna Impey, Pascal Lechler (dpa/apn)
Editor: Andreas Illmer