Thursday, April 3, 2008
A 39-nation coalition in Africa passed a declaration on Tuesday to ban cluster bombs in a nearly unanimous vote. The gathering in Lukasa, Zambia was the first meeting of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) in Africa.
“Africa is ready for Dublin,” summarised Zambian delegate Robert Mtonga, referring to the upcoming May 19-30 meeting in Ireland to discuss a global ban on the weapons. “Too often Africa’s voice is pushed to the margins in international decision-making. But in banning cluster bombs worldwide, a common African voice will speak volumes and win the day”.
|Too often Africa’s voice is pushed to the margins in international decision-making. But in banning cluster bombs worldwide, a common African voice will speak volumes and win the day.|
Mtonga was critical of South Africa, the lone voice against Monday’s decision and the continent’s largest producer and stockpiler of cluster bombs, and called on the country to destroy its munitions and join the coalition to outlaw their use. Egypt, the only other African nation to produce the controversial weapons, voiced support for the ban.
“Strong political will” was credited with the resolution, by CMC co-ordinator Thomas Nash in recognising the drive “to stop the proliferation of this outdated weapon”.
In a released statement the CMC said that 19 African countries, including South Africa, have endorsed the Wellington Declaration. The Wellington Declaration is the basis for the upcoming negotiations at the Dublin Diplomatic Conference in Ireland in May.
While countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom have tabled the idea of a “transition period” during which time cluster bombs would remain a legitimate weapon of war, the African delegation was resolutely against the idea, calling for an immediate ban.
Cluster munitions are dropped from aircraft, opening in mid-air and releasing a large number of smaller explosives over a wide area. Writer Theodora Williams stated that their use usually results in “…the death and maiming of thousands of innocent civilians”.
There are currently 13 African nations that possess cluster bombs although Uganda has recently announced they are destroying their stockpiles. The weapons have been used in eight African conflicts in the past 35 years. In addition to Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria and the Sudan, other nations known to have used the weapons are the former Yugoslavia, Eritrea, France, Israel, the Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the United States, China, Russia, and Israel have resisted any ban on cluster bombs, arguing that they can be used in self-defense. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the United States has lobbied allies to create loopholes in the upcoming Oslo treaty, to allow for the use of cluster bombs. Reuters reported that a U.S. official had stated that cluster bombs should not be banned if they are used responsibly in state conflicts.
In October 2007, Uganda became the first African country to state it would destroy its cluster bomb stockpiles. Uganda has announced a pan-African meeting to take place after the Dublin meeting, which would seek to garner support for the signing of a treaty in Oslo set to take place in December 2008. The weapons have been used in eight African conflicts in the past 35 years.
The CMC is an international network composed of over 250 civil society organizations in 60 countries, with the stated aim of protecting civilians from cluster munitions. Members of the CMC have been working to complete an international treaty to ban cluster munitions by 2008.
At the February CMC committee meeting in New Zealand, only 82 of the 122 nations present endorsed a draft ban on the production, usage or storage of cluster bombs.