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Study: Cluster Bombs Overwhelmingly Kill, Maim Civilians


A new study finds civilians account for 98 percent of those killed and maimed by cluster bombs. The humanitarian organization, Handicap International, has just launched the first worldwide study on the impact of cluster munitions. The study, called Fatal Footprint describes the affect of cluster munitions on the lives of people in 24 countries or regions.

The study argues cluster bombs are not an effective tool of war because their main victims are civilians.

Victim Assistance Coordinator of Handicap International, Katleen Maes, says cluster munitions are even more deadly to civilians than landmines.

"Cluster munitions, sub-munitions are designed to kill," she said. "They kill on average, more than two people per incident. So they are far more deadly than landmines, if you want to make that comparison. They become more and more unstable over time. You never know whether they are armed or not ... Cluster munitions contain a higher explosive charge. So, injuries are more severe than with landmines."

Maes says unexploded cluster munitions continue to indiscriminately kill and maim civilians decades after a conflict has ended.

The Study identifies more than 11,000 casualties in the past three decades due to cluster sub-munitions, 27 percent of them children. But it says this number is vastly underreported. It says males are most at risk, representing 84 percent of casualties.

It notes at least 360 million sub-munitions have been dropped, about 33 million remain unexploded in the ground. It says the failure rate is extremely high, ranging from 30 percent to 80 percent.

The report says about four billion cluster bombs are stockpiled in 33 producer countries. They include the United States, which has a billion munitions in stock, China, Russia and other countries in South America and Asia.

The U.S. Defense Department had no immediate reaction to the report, which says nearly 2 million cluster bombs have been dropped in Iraq.

It estimates at least 4 million sub-munitions were dropped on Lebanon during the one-month conflict with Israel. It says about 150 people were killed or injured and an average of two casualties are still reported every day.

Head of the Policy Unit of Handicap International, Stanislas Brabant, says the militant Hezbollah, shot off thousands of rockets containing cluster bombs into Israel. He says this is very worrying and is a strong argument for stopping the proliferation of these weapons.

"If you consider the number of four billion sub-munitions stockpiled worldwide, this compared, for instance, to the 260 million anti-personnel mines we spoke about in recent years, the threat is just huge. Imagine these four billion sub-munitions...," he said. "At the moment, they are still used by states and still have relative discipline in the way they use it."

Handicap International is calling for the international community to negotiate a new treaty to prevent the spread of cluster bombs and to stop their use.