Thursday, 25 March 2010

Cluster munition ban

The UK Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act has received Royal Ascent today and becomes UK law. We have banned the use of cluster munitions by the UK. It was only 2003 when the Ministry of Defence, in correspondence with us, defended its use of cluster munitions in Iraq. By their calculation the UK’s use of cluster munitions would have left a maximum of 3000 unexploded bomblets. These could be picked up by children, endangering life and potentially putting farm land out of operation. This was, in the view of the MOD, compatible with our commitments under international law.

Yet it is the desire to uphold and strengthen international law (specifically the insistence on the distinction between combatants and non-combatants) that has helped to bring about a change of heart, or rather, of UK Government policy.

The campaigning by
churches, their members and many others involved with the cluster munitions campaign has been crucial. Following our joint lobbying, the UK Government took a lead role in international negotiations to ensure a strong treaty text. The international Cluster Munitions Convention comes into force on 1 August 2010. US, Russia and China are not signed up but are likely to be impacted by the treaty anyway.

Next up – an International Arms Trade Treaty. Target date 2012. There are proposals for a new legally binding treaty requiring States to control the transfer of arms to ensure that they cannot be used in situations where gross abuses of human rights are likely to occur. Some have been understandably sceptical that this could ever see the light of day (as they were with . We will keep you posted.

(See also Churches' media release 24 March)