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RIGHTS: Norway Launches Campaign Against Cluster Bombs

Tarjei Kidd Olsen

OSLO, Dec 5 2006 (IPS) - Following the breakdown of UN negotiations, Norway is launching its own push to ban cluster bombs that kill and maim almost only civilians. The country is hoping to repeat the unprecedented success of the anti-landmine campaign in the 1990s.

Cluster bombs contain up to 200 ‘bomblets’ that spread widely when released. According to a report released in November by the non-governmental organisation Handicap International, civilians are 98 percent of all recorded casualties – and 27 percent are children.

The UN has found that Israel’s attack on the Hezbollah in July and August left cluster bombs scattered across almost 250 locations in Lebanon. When Transparency International finished its investigation into this at the end of October, an average of two to three people were being killed or injured daily by unexploded bomblets.

A report sponsored by the Norwegian foreign department found that bomblets mainly affect “children at play, families returning after war, and young men and women in the course of their daily lives, as well as those clearing failed sub-munitions and peacekeepers” in the 24 regions and countries affected.

On Nov. 17 Norway announced plans to invite interested countries to a meeting in early 2007 on developing a new treaty banning cluster bombs. It also announced a moratorium on the testing or use of its own cluster bombs, that make up 40 percent of Norway’s artillery ammunition.

This followed the breakdown of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) negotiations at the United Nations in Geneva the same day. Delaying tactics by countries such as the United States, Britain, Russia and China prevented formal talks on banning cluster bombs.

“We have tried to work inside the CCW for several years, but have not been successful,” Norwegian state secretary in the foreign department Raymond Johansen told IPS. “Therefore we want to promote a new initiative together with some other countries, and use the same methods that enabled us to get the ban against landmines in the 1990s.”

Norway was one of the first countries to support the NGO-initiated campaign against landmines that resulted in the Landmine Convention of 1999 imposing a global ban on the use, production, export and stockpiling of landmines.

The landmine campaign also followed a breakdown in CCW negotiations.

Many of the countries rejecting direct negotiations on cluster bombs at the CCW rallied around an alternative proposal by Britain to continue ”discussions” next year.

Jody Williams, recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for coordinating the landmine campaign, thinks the breakdown in negotiations over cluster bombs shows that countries are using the same obstruction tactics that led to the fight against mines being taken outside the CCW in 1992.

”Normal diplomatic negotiations are not working. Certain governments are sitting there waiting to do nothing,” Williams told IPS.

She supports Norway’s initiative. “Personally I welcome it tremendously, and they certainly have the support of civil society from the landmine movement. Norway was such a leader on the landmine issue that it was obvious that a country like Norway should lead this,” Williams said.

State secretary Johansen does not think that imposing a moratorium on cluster bombs instead of banning them completely sends out too weak a message to other countries.

”For the time being getting countries to impose a moratorium is a tall order. I think a lot of countries think a moratorium is too ambitious, and will be fighting against it,” he said.

”A lot of like-minded countries appreciate the initiative, but countries which produce cluster weapons certainly don’t. We have to explain to countries like Russia, China and the U.S. why we find it necessary to start a campaign to ban certain cluster weapons,” Johansen said.

In practice this means that not all cluster bombs are sought banned, but those that cause “grievous humanitarian consequences.” The details are still to be worked out, he said.

Jody Williams underlines the importance of including civil society in the process.

”I think banning cluster munitions will be more difficult than banning landmines, because this time there has not been the same amount of NGO involvement. Unless you are able to energise civil society, you will have a hard time making progress,” she told IPS.

“It’s not just the declaration that you’re going to lead that matters. It takes following up on the words, it takes sending diplomats to countries to get them on board, it takes civil society in Norway working with civil society in other countries to get them to energise their governments.”

Belgium became the first country to ban cluster bombs this February.

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