The Vienna Conference on Cluster Munitions ended a few hours ago. With participation by 138 States, NGOs from more than 50 countries (under the umbrella of the Cluster Munitions Coalition), eloquent testimony from victims, and participation by parliamentarians and United Nations agencies, the Vienna Conference brought the Oslo Process on Cluster Munitions to a new level of participation and momentum.
As pointed out by the CMC, only 4 users of cluster munitions did not participate in the Vienna conference (Eritrea, Israel, Russia and the United States). Twenty-three of the 34 producers of cluster munitions were here; as were 55 of the 79 stockpilers.
The conference sketched the lines of the negotiations that will take place at the diplomatic conference in Dublin on May 19-30 next year that is scheduled to negotiate a new treaty banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. The next meeting in the Oslo Process, however, will be in Wellington on 18-22 February. Registrations for governments and civil society are already open.
Highlights of the Vienna Conference for me were:
-- The appeal during the NGO Forum on Tuesday by young Soraj Ghulam Habib who lost both of his legs and a cousin to a cluster bomblet while on a family picnic in Afghanistan. There was a technical problem with translating the last part of his talk but it didn’t matter. His passion was eloquent enough.
-- The clip from the documentary film “Unacceptable Harm” that showed 11 year-old Zahra Hussein Soufan try to deal with confusion, pain and rejection by her schoolmates after losing her hand to a cluster bomblet that she confused for a toy in southern Lebanon.
-- The united voice being found by African States in calling for a comprehensive ban on cluster munitions. About 40 African States participated in the Vienna meeting, thanks in large degree to an effective sponsorship programme funded by Austria and Norway and administered by the United Nations Development Programme. Today, Uganda and Zambia announced that they would co-host an African regional forum on cluster munitions in March with the aim of developing a common African position on the need to prohibit cluster munitions.
-- The presentation of a new report analysing the reliability of the M85 cluster sub-munition. The M85 (pictured above) is equipped with a self-destruct timer that is designed to detonate the bomblet if it does not explode on impact. According to its manufacturers, it has a failure rate of only around 1 percent. Based on this, some States claim that the M85 does not cause unacceptable harm to civilians. The new report undermines those arguments by explaining the litany of things that can (and do) go wrong with the M85's mechanical arming and self-destruct mechanism and, based on rigorous studies of bomb sites, shows that its failure rate in southern Lebanon in 2006 was an order of magnitude higher at around 10 percent (even after discounting parent munitions that failed to open properly).
-- The frank and open debate that took place on the issue of defining a cluster munition (see John Borrie's previous post).
-- The already quite detailed discussions on clearance, victim assistance, storage and stockpile destruction, international cooperation and assistance, and transparency and compliance that seek to build on similar provisions in the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention.
The Vienna conference leaves plenty of work to do in Wellington and Dublin. Its great contribution, however, has been shedding light on the most important (and most contentious) issues and, in so doing, beginning to define the outlines of the debates and negotiations to come. For civil society, the conference provided the invaluable service of clarifying where national campaigning is most needed in the coming period.
The Wellington meeting will need to continue and intensify the discussions that took place in Vienna and, in particular, to deal properly with issues that were not given sufficient attention due to lack of time; issues such as interoperability with States using cluster munitions, definition criteria based on the weight and volume of sub-munitions, sensor-fused weapons, and risk education.
If I take one thing away from the Vienna meeting, it is that the Oslo process is not, as some might claim, on the crest of a wave; surging now but destined to crash and break later. It seems more like a snowball gathering speed downhill (and the forecast is for more wintry weather).
Patrick Mc Carthy
Photo: Presentation of the report, "M85: An analysis of reliability" to the Vienna Conference on Cluster Munitions (photo courtesy of the author).