A landmark international treaty to ban cluster munitions took effect today, requiring signatories to stop the use, production and transfer of the deadly weapons. The Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force six months after more than 30 countries ratified the 2008 treaty signed by 107 nations. China, Russia, the United States and Israel are among those that have rejected the deal, which obligates those that have ratified it to destroy stockpiles.
Those powers are thought to hoard and manufacture the bulk of the munitions, although the data is secret. Campaigners including the Red Cross hope that the moral weight of the treaty would force these big military powers to sign up. The International Committee of the Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger said today's milestone "stigmatises the use of cluster munitions". "We hope that the entry into force will also affect the practice of states that have not yet adhered to the treaty," he added.
The United States alone accounts for cluster bombs or shells containing about 800 million bomblets, according to the Cluster Munition Coalition, citing US congressional records. The munitions split open before impact and scatter multiple, often hundreds, of smaller submunitions, or plastic bomblets, the size and shape of a tennis ball or a table lighter over a wide area. Many of them fail to explode immediately and can lie hidden for years, killing and maiming civilians, including children, even decades after the original conflict is over in countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
In Laos, which will host the first meeting of the convention in November, 300 people are still hit every year by cluster bombs dating to the Vietnam war, according to the coalition. Signatory states of the convention include 22 out of 29 Nato members, notably Britain and Germany, which have an estimated 50 million cluster sub munitions each, as well as France. Thirty-seven countries have ratified the deal so far.