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US senators should back Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act

Thomas Nash [Cluster Munition Coalition Coordinator]: "Efforts to ban or restrict the use of cluster munitions are ongoing in dozens of countries around the world and have been spreading in response to growing awareness of the humanitarian problem and increased pressure from civil society. Most prominently Belgium banned the weapon in February 2006 and Norway instituted a permanent moratorium in November 2006. The two most recent countries to be added to the list of states where parliamentary initiatives are underway on cluster munitions are the UK and US, two of the biggest users of the weapon over the past decade.

In the UK a draft bill to prohibit cluster munitions has passed through the House of Lords to the House of Commons. This bill would prohibit the use, production, trade and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Whilst public support for a prohibition on cluster munitions is strong in the UK (polling suggests 81% favour a ban) the government and the main opposition party both oppose this bill.

In the US a bill has been introduced that would prohibit all cluster munitions with a failure rate of more than 1% - a policy standard to which all newly acquired cluster munitions must already adhere. The bill would also prohibit the use of any cluster munitions in or near populated areas. From one perspective of most campaign groups this proposed legislation does not go far enough, clearly a prohibition on cluster munitions rather than regulation would offer the most protection to civilians. Using percentage failure rates to determine the legitimacy of a weapon prone to indiscriminate use and effects during and after attacks is neither a sound logical approach nor an adequate humanitarian response.

The actual implications of this bill in the US though are extremely far reaching. If taken seriously and adhered to strictly, using realistic and transparent tests to measure failure rates, it would prohibit all but some 30,000 sensor-fuzed weapons stockpiled by the US (which would also be excluded under the draft UK law because they are precision guided.) This would put out of service nearly a billion stockpiled submunitions, the very weapons that sparked an international campaign against cluster munitions. Although the US draft bill contains a presidential waiver it is difficult to envisage a situation where national security depended on the use of cluster munitions with high failure rates.

All Senators concerned with the protection of civilians during and after conflict should give their full support to this bill, which offers the most effective and achievable chance for real progress in the US on a key humanitarian issue. Passage of this bill would move the US out of the ranks of Russia, China, Pakistan and others that refuse to acknowledge the need for action on this problem and into the ranks of those progressive states already committed to taking action on cluster munitions.

As 43 states, many of them with ongoing parliamentary processes, meet in Oslo this week to work out a plan to develop, negotiate and conclude a new international treaty on cluster munitions by 2008, this bill offers a sign that even in the major user and producer states the calls for action are strong and growing. This bill comes at an important moment in time and deserves the support of all Senators."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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