UN chief hails treaty banning cluster bombs

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The swift entry into force of a new international convention banning cluster bombs today highlights "the world's collective revulsion at these abhorrent weapons," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday.

Having the treaty become international law just over two years after its adoption also highlights "the power of collaboration among governments, civil society and the United Nations to change attitudes and policies on a threat faced by all humankind," he said in a statement.

"Such cooperation will be crucial as we seek now to implement the convention, including through assistance to victims," the UN chief said.

Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles, which scatter them over vast areas. Some fail to explode immediately and can lie dormant for years until they are disturbed, often by children attracted by their small size and bright colors. A bomblet can kill or maim someone within 10 to 50 yards.

The convention prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions, sets strict deadlines for the destruction of stockpiles and clearance of contaminated land, and obliges states to support survivors and affected communities.

It was adopted by 107 countries at a conference in Dublin, Ireland in May 2008. The 30th ratification, on 16 February, triggered its entry into force today.

The London-based Cluster Munition Coalition, which represents 200 activist groups against cluster bombs, said 37 countries have now ratified the treaty including former users and producers of cluster munitions and countries affected by them.

"Nations that remain outside this treaty are missing out on the most significant advance in disarmament of the past decade," said Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch and a co-chair of the coalition. "If governments care enough about humanitarian law and protecting civilians from the deadly effects of armed conflict, they will join immediately."

The coalition said Moldova and Norway destroyed the last of their cluster munition stockpiles in recent weeks, joining Spain which eradicated its stockpile last year. Nearly a dozen other countries have begun destruction including Britain, a major former user and producer, it said.

The first meeting of countries that have ratified the convention will be held in Laos from Nov. 9-12, a country which the secretary-general said "has suffered tremendously from the impact of cluster munitions." Ban urged all member states to attend the meeting to show support for the treaty.