23rd May 2019

Six EU states fail to sign cluster bomb ban

(corrected at 11:25) Six EU states declined to sign a historic convention against the use of cluster bombs in the Norwegian capital Oslo on Wednesday (3 December), with Finland, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus in the recalcitrant group.

"Signing is open until 6 p.m., but I don't think any more will sign today," a Norwegian diplomat said on Thursday. "Any countries that still want to sign in the future can do this at the UN headquarters in New York. There is no final deadline."

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  • A US warplane dropping cluster bombs - the Obama administration will be under pressure to join the ban (Photo: wikipedia)

The convention - a legally-binding document banning the production, use, stockpiling or trade in cluster bombs - was signed by 92 countries and has already been ratified by four national legislatures, including Norway, which has also transposed the treaty into national law.

Cluster bombs are a form of anti-infantry ammunition that contain hundreds of mini-bomblets and are fired by artillery cannons, launched by missiles or dropped from aircraft.

In some models, the bomblets automatically self-destruct, but in others they act as mines, detonating upon contact and killing or maiming civilians long after ceasefire agreements are put in place.

Children are frequently victims of the weapon, attracted by their typically bright colour.

The munition was first used by Soviet and German forces against each other on Soviet territory in 1943. Both Russia and Georgia used the technology in their August war this year.

"The true measure of [the treaty's] achievement will be how the lives of people and communities affected change in the months and years to come," International Committee of the Red Cross president Jakob Kellenberger said.

"The historic process, of which the signing of this convention is a part, will only end when the use of these weapons has ceased, when stockpiles are eliminated, when contaminated areas have been cleared and when victims have been helped to rebuild their lives."

Of the EU non-signatories, Poland, Greece, Romania and Slovakia have produced and stockpiled cluster bombs. Latvia has also stockpiled the weapons, while Cyprus usually follows Greek foreign policy.

None of the six have used the arms in past conflicts, according to NGO Human Rights Watch.

But Polish generals ahead of the Oslo meeting told Gazeta Wyborcza they will not sign the Oslo pact until Russia does so, adding that more civilian-friendly anti-infantry weapons are too expensive.

The EU is currently working on its own version of a ban for all 27 states in the bloc.

"EU member states aim to conclude negotiations on a legally binding instrument that prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians and which would include provisions on co-operation and assistance," an internal EU paper dated 5 November from the office of top diplomat Javier Sloana says.

The US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel - the world's heaviest producers and users of cluster bombs - also stayed out of the Oslo pact, with the US, Russia and China locked in negotiations on who goes first.

Correction: the Czech Republic was originally mentioned as having failed to sign the treaty due to technical problems with paperwork. This turned out to be incorrect, with Prague having joined the list on Wednesday

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