Anaclara Padilla Estrada, Correspondent
Cluster bombs, which began to be used in Vietnam, affect more civilians than combatants. The conflicts in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon are the latest where they have been used. During the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah, in the summer of 2006, more than 4 million submunitions were dropped in southern Lebanon, causing more casualties and destruction than any other weapons. The forthcoming ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions is a big step, not without difficulties and challenges, to eliminate a weapon that does not discriminate between civilian and military targets.
Its production is cheap, only three euros are enough to cause pain and sow death. To disable it, and prevent further destruction of lives, costs 750 euros. A price too high and that the international community is not willing to pay for people who lived through the war and cannot forget about cluster bombs.
Although the Convention on Cluster Munitions will be ratified in the coming weeks, between 5% and 30% of these munitions will remain active until someone, often a child, contact them and make them explode.
The victims of the Vietnam War were the first to die as a result of cluster bombs. In this conflict, the Americans sought to prevent the enemy from gaining access to large areas of territory and deal with a hypothetical massive attack. Most of today's conflicts are not based on these objectives. Win the hearts and minds of the local population appears to be pivotal to win the battles of today. However, cluster bombs have claimed 100,000 lives of innocent civilians and consequently contaminated the land.
These weapons disperse their submunitions over an area the size of several football fields, and are not able to discriminate between soldiers and civilians. And sometimes the bombs, dropped from the air or from land, do not explode before impact, and remain on the ground. A threat that people have to face even after decades of armed conflict. It often forces them to abandon their land.
Despite its devastating consequences, there will be no international agreement to prevent the use of cluster bombs until next month. Then the Convention on Cluster Munitions enters into force, which means that more than 100 countries will not use, manufacture, store or transfer these weapons, in addition to withholding assistance or support to other states that do so. But not only that. This international standard also requires countries to clean up their affected areas within a decade and destroy their stockpiles of these weapons soon be illegal in eight years.
One of the most ambitious aspects of the Convention refers to the transparency measures. Each state shall, within 180 days after ratification of the Treaty, submit an annual progress report to the UN secretary general. In this text, it will have to detail both the number of cluster bombs being kept and the technical characteristics for the process of dismantling their facilities.
One of the most controversial points of the end of the negotiations could ruin the rest of the points. Interoperability, that is to say, the joint military exercises between member states of the treaty and those who are not, has been in the air. It is an issue that is particularly sensitive in regard to the United States and its military alliances.
Despite initial opposition, producing countries like UK, Germany and France have joined the agreement, along with more than 100 countries, Latin America, Africa and Asia. Broad support that would help to stigmatize such weapons and to determine their manufacture and use. But although the Convention on Cluster Munitions involves a great leap in international law, it will do little while countries like the U.S., which has the largest stockpile of cluster bombs, or Poland and Romania, who possess and manufacture such weapons, refuse to support an end. Or while hundreds of bombs are still hidden waiting, hoping for someone to activate them.
Anaclara Padilla Estrada is a journalist. His article is published courtesy of the Solidarity Center Collaborations (CCS)
Translated from the Spanish version by: