Next Monday, representatives from over 100 governments will begin a two-week conference in Dublin to hammer out the final details of a treaty banning cluster munitions. Supporters call it the most significant disarmament and humanitarian treaty of the decade.
Thomas Nash is the international coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition, which is made up of more than 250 NGOs from 70 countries. From London, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about next week’s diplomatic conference.
“The purpose of this really historic conference is to negotiate the final terms of an international treaty that will ban the use, production, stockpiling and trade of cluster munitions and set up a framework to ensure the rights of survivors and affected communities are dealt with in a proper way,” he says.
Cluster munitions have been used in many conflicts, including those in Africa. “The reason people care so much about cluster munitions is because they kill and injure too many civilians. They kill and injure civilians during attacks because they spread out over a wide area hundreds and hundreds of smaller bomblettes from inside a container. It can be a shell or a bomb or a rocket. And these cover areas as many as several football fields (wide) indiscriminately. And so many after attacks…because they act like landmines…they fail to go off. They threaten lives and livelihoods for years and even decades afterwards. So it’s a double danger,” he says.
The treaty is very similar to the treaty banning anti-personnel landmines that was signed and ratified beginning in the 1990s. “In fact, much of the language is verbatim from the 1997 mine ban treaty. It’s the same holistic approach of banning an entire category of weapons but also placing positive obligations on states to clear up the mess afterwards, to support the victims and to destroy these weapons so that they never get used again,” he says.
The cluster munitions treaty will be adopted at the end of the two-week Dublin conference on May 30th. “Then the treaty will be forwarded on to Oslo for signature by as many states as possible. And we’re confident there’ll be a large number of states coming to Oslo to sign the treaty.”
The draft treaty stipulates that the treaty will take effect, or enter into force, six months after 20 nations sign and ratify the agreement.
Nash says it is more than a weapons treaty. “This is a treaty that is primarily humanitarian in nature. It’s of course going to ban a category of weapons, but it’s also going to be critical in terms of solving a humanitarian problem and preventing a further humanitarian problem,” he says.
A number of countries are opposed to the cluster munitions treaty, such as the United States, Russia and China. “What we hope will happen after the treaty…is signed and entered into force is that the moral stigmatizing power of the treaty will affect the behavior of states, even if they do not sign the treaty.”