PRESS RELEASE (embargo: 10:00 BST, 6 September 2012) 

Progress in banning cluster bombs shows protection of civilians can work

(London, 6 September 2012) The new ‘Cluster Munition Monitor’ report, released in London today, shows remarkable progress in eradicating cluster munitions.  The UK campaign organisation Article 36 – UK focal point for the international Cluster Munition Coalition and author of the report’s chapter on the UK – says this progress should inspire efforts to tackle current challenges in the protection of civilians.

Only 2 years after it entered into force, 111 countries have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, nearly 750,000 cluster munitions containing 85.8 million submunitions have been destroyed from stockpiles and tens of thousands of deadly unexploded submunitions have been cleared from affected countries.  As well as embracing the ban on cluster bombs, the UK has already destroyed over 70% of its stockpile of the now prohibited weapons.  As a major former user the progress made by the UK is very significant.

In a short period of time these weapons have gone from being claimed as essential to being recognized as unacceptable.  A norm is taking hold that rejects cluster bombs because of the unacceptable harm they cause to civilians. The weapons are increasingly the preserve of oppressive regimes like that of Gaddafi in Libya and Bashar Al-Assad in Syria,” said Thomas Nash, Director of Article 36.

The partnership between states and civil society that led to treaties banning landmines and cluster munitions show that progress is possible in efforts to protect civilians and promote disarmament.

The progress made in banning cluster bombs should inspire other efforts to protect civilians.   Most urgently needed are new efforts to stop the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas – a pattern that is killing so many civilians in Syria on a daily basis,” said Nash.

The situation in Syria has shown again the appalling consequences when explosive weapons, such as artillery, rockets, and airstrikes are used in densely populated towns and cities. The UN Security Council reacted to the bombardment of Homs and Aleppo by calling for an end to the use of heavy weapons in population centres. The humanitarian crisis in Syria is the latest example of a predictable pattern of harm from explosive weapon use in populated areas. In the past two years this pattern has been witnessed in Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, areas of Sudan and South Sudan as well as in ongoing attacks with explosive weapons in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Forthcoming meetings at the UN Human Rights Council, UN General Assembly and UN Security Council provide an opportunity for states to start addressing this problem.

The UK is playing a leading role in the destruction of cluster munitions, but it could also take a leading role to reduce harm from other explosive weapons.  The UK should commit to international discussions to set new standards against using heavy explosive weapons, which have wide area effects, in areas where civilians are concentrated,” said Nash.

CONTACT:

Thomas Nash, Director, Article 36: UK mobile 077 1192 6730 or email thomas@article36.org.

NOTES:

What is Article 36?

Article 36 is a UK-based not-for-profit organisation working to prevent the unintended, unnecessary or unacceptable harm caused by certain weapons. Article 36 promotes civil society partnerships to respond to harm caused by existing weapons and to build a stronger framework to prevent harm as weapons are used or developed in the future. Article 36 hosts and provides coordination for the International Network on Explosive Weapons. View a slideshow explaining the work of Article 36 here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6grKqfS1cc.

Key UK findings from the Cluster Munition Monitor 2012

  • The UK has declared the possession of a stockpile of 191,128 cluster munitions and 38,758,898 submunitions. The stockpile was withdrawn from service by 30 May 2008 and the majority had been destroyed as of July 2012.
  • In April 2012, the UK reported that 71.51% of the UK stockpile had been destroyed. It reported the destruction of 5,561,556 explosive submunitions in the reporting period (1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012).
  • As of 31 March 2012, the UK reported that 11,044,194 explosive submunitions were still to be destroyed.

The Cluster Munition Monitor 2012 and related documents will be available after 10am GMT on 6 September at www.the-monitor.org/.

What are explosive weapons?

Explosive weapons include improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as well as explosive ordnance such as mortars, artillery shells and aircraft bombs. These weapons use blast and fragmentation to kill and injure people in the area around the point of detonation. When used in public places, this area-effect means that innocent people are often severely affected. Data indicate that between 80 and 90% of those killed and injured by explosive weapons when used in populated areas are civilians; still more are affected when there is damage to vital infrastructure (such as schools, hospitals, housing and water and sanitation systems).

What is the International Network on Explosive Weapons?

The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) was established in Geneva on 29 March, 2011 by Action on Armed Violence, Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, IKV/Pax Christi, Medact, Norwegian People’s Aid, Oxfam International, and Save the Children UK. INEW calls on States and other actors to acknowledge and strive to avoid the severe harm caused by explosive weapons use in populated areas; to gather and make available relevant data; to realize the rights of victims; and to develop stronger international standards in this area.

What should states be doing on explosive weapons?

Around 20 states have acknowledged the problem of explosive weapons in populated areas, including Australia, Austria, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway and Switzerland. States should acknowledge this problem in public statements and should welcome the UN Secretary General and ICRC’s calls to avoid use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in denseley populated areas.

Forthcoming opportunities to make public statements on this issue include: discussions at the Human Rights Council in Geneva from 10 September; the UN General Assembly in New York in September and its committees in October; and the Security Council debate on Protection of Civilians in November or December. The UN Secretary General and several states have called for focused discussions and more systematic consideration of this issue. A meeting of experts within governments, civil society and international organisations would be a useful step forward during the course of 2013.

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