Ninety two states signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions - which bans the production, stockpiling, use and export of cluster bombs during a ceremony in Oslo on Wednesday.
Further signatories are expected on Thursday as the conference continues with civil society campaigners predicting at least 100 states eventually signing the treaty, which also requires states to provide adequate assistance to victims of these weapons. The treaty was negotiated in Dublin in May 2008. It must be ratified by 30 countries before it enters into force.
This treaty is a landmark victory for civil society campaigners. Hundreds of NGOs, including Amnesty International, and survivors of indiscriminate cluster bomb explosions, have supported the worldwide campaign and joined the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) which was originally started in 2003.
The outgoing US administration boycotted the negotiations and has refused to sign the treaty. Russia, China and Slovakia have also refused to sign. However, Afghanistan which has followed the negotiations but stated that it would not sign the treaty has just been given a green light from Kabul.
“This treaty will help to stigmatise the use of these weapons and Amnesty International calls on the new US administration to sign up to the ban after taking over the White House”, said Brian Wood, Amnesty International's arms control manager.
For more than 40 years, cluster bombs have killed and wounded innocent people, causing untold suffering, loss and hardship for thousands in more than 20 countries. These weapons cause death and injury to civilians during attacks and for years afterwards because of the lethal contamination that they cause when they fail to detonate on impact.
The weapon caused more civilian casualties in Iraq in 2003 and Kosovo in 1999 than any other weapon system. Israel's massive use of the weapon in Lebanon in August 2006 resulted in more than 200 civilian casualties in the year following the ceasefire. Alongside cluster munitions from the US, Chinese 122mm Type 81 cluster munition rockets and MZD-2 submunitions for such rockets were also found in Lebanon.
A cluster munition is a weapon comprising multiple explosive submunitions which are dispensed from a container. Cluster bombs hamper post-conflict rebuilding and rehabilitation and the dangerous work of cluster bomb clearance absorbs funds that could be spent on other urgent humanitarian needs. The appearance and size of cluster bombs make them look particularly interesting, and toy-like. It is estimated that 60 percent of civilian casualties are children.
"Amnesty International believes that, while the new treaty is not perfect, it will enable states to significantly reduce the risks of civilian deaths and injuries in conflict and post conflict situations," said Brian Wood, Amnesty International's arms control manager.
The formal ceremony will conclude with a speech by Richard Moyes from the Cluster Munitions Campaign – a clear sign of the strength of civil society’s involvement in securing this victory.