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Cluster Munitions Ban Taking Hold

A new report says several states that have signed the international treaty banning cluster munitions have started to destroy their stockpiles even before the treaty comes into force. The report, titled "Banning Cluster Munitions," was jointly produced by Human Rights Watch and the group, Landmine Action.

The report shows the prohibition on cluster munitions is firmly taking hold and more and more nations are joining the new international treaty banning these weapons.

Authors of the 288-page report say there has been a major shift in global opinion about cluster munitions in recent years. They say countries that formerly used, produced, exported and stockpiled these weapons, now are denouncing them as inhumane.

Steve Goose is Arms Division Director of Human Rights Watch and final editor of the Report. He says countries are beginning to implement provisions of the treaty even before it comes into force. For instance, he says Spain became the first country in March to destroy all of its stockpiles.

"Colombia last month destroyed almost all of their stocks About a dozen other countries are already underway," said Goose. "A number of which have confirmed that they will be done in 2009. Austria, Belgium, and Norway have all said they think they will be done in 2009. Germany has already destroyed about a third of their stockpile. This is quite remarkable."

Goose says this shows the determination of the international community to deal urgently with the humanitarian dangers posed by this weapon.

Brussels-based Handicap International keeps count of the victims. Representative Stan Brabant says the latest number of recorded, confirmed casualties is 13,306.

"However, we estimate that the true number is in the tens of thousands," he said. "We recorded casualties in about 30 countries. And, we keep recording new casualties. Obviously, the human impact is long-term. It is not just at the time of the use of the weapon. But, it is sometimes 40 years later as we see in south-east Asia now."

Cluster munitions can be fired by artillery and rocket systems or dropped by aircraft. The bombs explode in the air scattering hundreds of tiny sub-munitions on the ground. Those smaller bomblets often pose a danger to civilians for years.

A total of 96 countries have signed the treaty. Thirty ratifications are needed to bring it into force six months later. Major holdouts include the United States, Russia, Israel and China. In a policy shift of its own, the United States agreed last year to ban most cluster munitions.

The Cluster Munitions Coalition believes the Convention has created a new standard of behavior. It says rejecting these weapons outright is a powerful deterrent, even to those countries that haven't joined the treaty.