Handicap International welcomes measures taken by States to ensure that people threatened by these weapons are able to reclaim normal lives. In the light of recent use in Libya, Handicap International is calling on all countries to join the Convention, so that these weapons can never again cause harm.
Handicap International deminers in South Lebanon.
More than 120 States participated in the conference in Beirut, held from 12 to 16 September. On the final day, States Parties unanimously adopted the Beirut Declaration, defining their obligations over the next four years. Handicap International welcomes the significant progress made in the fight against cluster munitions and the focus on providing assistance to victims.
"Today, victim assistance has been confirmed as one of the top priorities of the Convention against cluster munitions," said Aynalem Zenebe, an Ethiopian survivor of a cluster munition accident. "States are realizing the barbarity of these weapons. The thousands of victims - men, women and children - who have been unfairly injured can finally become the first beneficiaries of this treaty,” she added.
During the Conference, States had to explain their existing mechanisms for collecting data about victims, as well as the financial and technical resources deployed for their rehabilitation and inclusion. "This is a great step in the fight against cluster munitions,” announced Paul Vermeulen, Handicap International’s Director of Advocacy . “Governments need to be involved in the identification of victims and each State Party has an obligation to provide adequate responses to their needs."
Since the first conference in November 2010, 17 more States have become States Parties to the Convention, including Afghanistan, one of the countries most polluted by cluster munitions. In addition, non-signatory States, such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, attended the Beirut conference as observers. Their presence proves that the Convention is increasingly seen as the international norm for cluster munitions, and that its humanitarian objectives are recognized and understood even by States that have not joined. Although this attitude is encouraging, Handicap International maintains that joining the Convention is the only effective way to eradicate the scourge of cluster munitions and to ensure that all victims receive the assistance they need.
Cluster munitions still affect 31 countries and territories worldwide and hundreds of thousands of people live under daily threat from these weapons. Unfortunately the problem is ongoing and cluster munitions were used as recently as April 2011, by Col. Gaddafi’s forces in Libya.
In response, Handicap International deployed an emergency team to Libya, to educate communities about the danger posed by explosive remnants of war. This team is working among at-risk populations in eastern Libya, focusing particularly on children, who are often the first victims of these weapons. To date, these awareness projects have benefitted tens of thousands of people.
The UK ambassador to Lebanon delivered a speech at the Beirut conference strongly condemning cluster munitions, saying “The Beirut declaration must be the moment where we say: let this end, enough is enough.” He reported the UK’s good progress in destroying its cluster munitions stockpile and highlighted actions taken to urge more Commonwealth States to join the Convention. He also announced that the UK will exceed its planned £30 million of funding for cluster munitions clearance between 2010-2013.
However, while the UK was pledging its commitment to eradicating cluster munitions at the conference in Beirut, campaigners discovered cluster bombs being openly promoted for sale in London, at the Defence & Security Equipment international (DSEi) arms fair. In response DSEi, with the support of the UK government, took the decision to shut down the two stands, which were operating in violation of UK law and DSEi’s own rules. However, this is the second time running that such a breach has occurred, raising serious questions about the UK’s commitment to regulating arms sales on its own soil.
Survivors call for immediate action
The Beirut meeting concluded with a powerful declaration delivered by cluster munition survivors. They emphasized that since the last conference in 2010, many victims have continued to wait for much-needed assistance that still seems to be out of reach. They called on governments to “move beyond words and take action” to make victim assistance services accessible for all.