[JURIST] Forty-six of 49 countries participating in the the two-day Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions [conference materials] on Friday agreed to an action plan to develop a new international treaty [press release] to ban the use of cluster munitions [FAS backgrounder] by 2008. Hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the 46 nations vowed in the Oslo Declaration [PDF text] to conclude a legally binding international instrument prohibiting the use of cluster munitions that "cause unacceptable harm to civilians" and to "establish a framework for cooperation and assistance that ensures adequate provision of care and rehabilitation to survivors and their communities." The countries plan to continue negotiations with further meetings in Lima, Vienna and Dublin over the course of the next year. In his opening statement [text] to the conference, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Store [official profile] called for an end to the use of cluster munitions:
We must bring an end to the unacceptable human suffering caused by the use of cluster munitions. This suffering is not an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of modern war. It is the result of the use of a particular group of weapons...The time has come to agree that these weapons that cause such indiscriminate suffering should no longer be used.Japan, Poland and Romania refused to sign the declaration, while Israel and the United States did not take part in the conference. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland condemned Israel [UN press conference summary] in August 2006 for its "immoral" use of cluster bombs [JURIST report] in the most recent Middle East conflict [JURIST news archive]. US Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced [press release] a bill last week that would ban US federal funds [JURIST report] for the use, sale, or transfer of cluster munitions [Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) advocacy website]. The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2007 [text] would allow an exception for bombs to be used against "clearly defined military targets and not where civilians are known to be present."
Cluster munitions have been used by at least 23 countries; at least 34 nations have produced more than 200 different types of cluster munitions. Cluster munitions are considered by many to be inaccurate weapons designed to spread damage indiscriminately and could therefore be considered illegal [CMC backgrounder] under multiple provisions of Protocol I [text] of the Geneva Conventions (1977). AFP has more.