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Cluster Munitions: ICRC Calls for Urgent International Action

Contact:  Camilla Waszink, 41-22-730-2642, 41-79-217-3206; Peter Herby, 41-22-730-2729, 41-79-217-3205, both with the International Committee of the Red Cross


GENEVA, Nov. 6 /Christian Newswire/ -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today called for an immediate end to the use of inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions and renewed its call for a prohibition on the use of all cluster munitions in populated areas.


The announcement was made on the eve of the Third Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in Geneva (7-17 November 2006), where States are expected to discuss further steps to address this issue. The ICRC also offered to host an international meeting of experts in 2007 to discuss future rules of international humanitarian law that would better protect civilians from the effects of such weapons.


Cluster munitions are air- or ground-launched canisters that can contain up to 650 individual submunitions. Although the submunitions are generally designed to explode on impact, they often fail to do so. Cluster munitions have had a horrific impact on civilians in most of the conflicts in which they have been used, including those in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and Laos. The ICRC first called for action on this issue within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in 2000. Although a number of States have begun reviewing their policies on the use of cluster munitions, there has not been an effective international response.


Speaking to representatives of international media in Geneva, ICRC director Philip Spoerri said that the situation in Lebanon since the recent conflict had again demonstrated the need for urgent action. He described many towns and rural areas in southern Lebanon as being littered with unexploded cluster submunitions that claimed many new victims each week. Mr. Spoerri also emphasized the long-term impact that cluster munitions could have on agriculture by contaminating productive land and the challenge they posed for relief and reconstruction efforts. He stressed that in Laos, over 30 years after cluster munitions had been used, unexploded submunitions were still regularly killing and maiming people in rural areas. "It is a terrible reality that civilians are so often caught up in the horrors of modern conflict," he said, "but it is simply unacceptable that they should return to homes and fields littered with explosive debris. Cluster munitions are often the worst offenders given the massive numbers in which they are used, their area-wide effects and their well-known problems of accuracy and reliability."


After the Kosovo conflict in 2000, the ICRC called for a ban on the use of cluster munitions in populated areas. It also launched an initiative for an international treaty on explosive remnants of war that was concluded by 91 States in 2003 and will enter into force on 12 November 2006. The agreement – a protocol to the CCW – assigns responsibility to the parties to an armed conflict for clearing or providing assistance for clearing any failed munitions they have used and for making information on the types and location of munitions used rapidly available. However, it does not contain specific restrictions on cluster munitions or specific requirements to reduce their failure rate.