A coalition of humanitarian groups is calling on governments to negotiate a treaty to prohibit the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs. The coalition is backing an initiative put forth by Norway to start a process that will lead towards an international ban on these weapons that, they say, mainly kill and maim civilians.
The coalition says the failure of governments attending an arms control conference to take action, prompted Norway to take the lead in getting negotiations on a cluster bomb treaty under way.
The move follows the failure of a United Nations conference to agree any curbs on cluster weapons.
Director of Arms Division at Human Rights Watch, Steve Goose, says during the two-week conference support for international negotiations on cluster munitions has grown from six countries to 30 countries.
He said, "These are all extraordinarily encouraging developments. They reflect the rapidly growing international momentum to deal urgently with cluster munitions and to prohibit those weapons that cause unacceptable harm to civilians."
"We now have in place the beginning of a process that will lead to a new international treaty. We are confident that this process will be successful. We are hopeful that it will be a rapid process," he added.
Goose says he would like to see a treaty concluded within a year or two.
Oslo says it will now invite countries to work outside the U.N. system to agree a ban modeled on the Ottawa Convention restricting the use of land mines.
Coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition, Thomas Nash, notes the land mine treaty was negotiated outside the United Nations structure.
He says the 151 countries that have signed on to the Ottawa Convention do not include such heavyweights as China, Russia and the United States. Yet, these governments, he says are in compliance with the treaty.
Nash said, ""If we get a treaty which, I think, we are on the road to doing banning cluster munitions…and even if some of the major user countries are not on board immediately or at the end of that process, their use of cluster munitions is likely to stop in the same way as this strong international norm banning anti-personnel land mines stopped the U.S. and others from using land mines. And, now, we only have one state using land mines today and that is a pariah state, Burma."
Calls for curbs on using cluster bombs have been growing since Israel's month-long conflict with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon this summer.
The small, orange-colored munitions are packed into larger, conventional artillery shells which can be dropped from aircraft. Each shell scatters hundreds of the smaller bomblets over a large area.
According to activists, the bomblets frequently fail to detonate until they are disturbed by people on the ground - effectively making them as lethal as land mines.
Norway is planning to organize an international conference in Oslo early next year to start negotiations on a cluster munitions treaty.
The International Committee of the Red Cross also plans to have a meeting next year to mobilize civil society in favor of a treaty.
A recent study by Handicap International, finds civilians account for 98 percent of those killed and maimed by cluster bombs.