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Cluster Munitions Treaty Would Provide Victims Assistance


With negotiations on a treaty to ban cluster munitions in their final days, strong language has been written into the draft treaty for victim assistance.

Adoption of the treaty is scheduled for this Friday at the end of a two-week meeting in Dublin, Ireland. The United States, Russia and China are opposed to the treaty. The United States says treaty provisions could jeopardize its participation in joint peacekeeping operations, as well as some disaster relief efforts.

Stan Brabant is the head of the policy unit of Handicap International. From Dublin, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about whether he’s satisfied with the treaty’s language for victims’ assistance.

“Yes, we are extremely satisfied. These provisions include really three elements. First, a definition of what a victim of a cluster munition is. The definition is very strong. It includes, obviously, the individual that has been affected by the weapon, injured, but also his or her family and community. This is very important because it’s going to make a big difference for many people in affected areas. The second very important element states parties will have an obligation to provide to the victims medical care, rehabilitation, psychological support, social and economic reintegration and support, as well as an obligation to collect data on victims…. A third element, which is maybe the most important of all, is a list of steps that states will have to take in order to implement victim assistance. They need to develop a plan, a budget. They need to have a timeline…. So it’s something very concrete, very specific,” he says.

While the United States is opposed to the cluster munitions treaty, as it was for the international landmine treaty, it is heavily involved in the cleanup of landmines and unexploded ordinance, as well as victim assistance. It says it has provided such assistance to nearly 50 countries.

Asked whether the provisions for victim assistance are similar to those of the landmine treaty, Brabant says, “They basically build on the ten years of experience of the mine ban treaty. But they go much further.”

It’s unclear how many people have been killed, injured or maimed by cluster munitions. When the land mine treaty was adopted, various figures were being used to estimate how many were affected each year. But few hard figures are available for cluster munitions.

“Basically we could confirm 13,306 cluster munition casualties in over 25 countries. This is what we know. What we don’t know is, for instance, most likely (a) very high number of casualties in Southeast Asia 40 years ago. And we probably will never know…. This being said, based on what we know we estimate it could be as high as 100,000 causalities all over the world,” he says.

He adds that 27 percent of the registered causalities are children and 98 percent are civilians.

Recently, Stephen Mull, US assistance secretary of state for political-military affairs, said the cluster munitions treaty could criminalize joint military operations between countries that sign the treaty and those that do not. He also said that since US military ships may carry cluster weapons, they might not be able to take party in humanitarian operations. Treaty supporters reject the US statements.