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New Zealand is among more than 100 countries that have endorsed a new Convention to ban cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. Agreement on the Convention was reached at a Diplomatic Conference held in Dublin between 19 and 30 May.
The new Convention would see all current designs of cluster bombs that cause unacceptable harm to civilians outlawed and includes a specific article on victim assistance. Strong and clear provisions were also agreed on destruction of stockpiles, clearance of cluster munition remnants, and international co-operation and assistance.
New Zealand’s Disarmament Ambassador, Don MacKay, along with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Ministry of Defence, attended the conference, which was the most significant meeting of the Oslo Process. Ambassador MacKay was responsible for steering discussions at the Dublin Conference on the difficult issue of defining a prohibited cluster munition.
The Oslo Process was launched in February 2007 to address the humanitarian harm posed by cluster munitions. The Dublin conference follows on from international meetings held in Norway, Peru, Austria and New Zealand.
Discussions at the Wellington Conference on Cluster Munitions in February 2008, which was attended by more than 100 countries, made good progress on the draft text of the new convention, which formed the basis of negotiation at Dublin.
A signing ceremony for the new Convention is expected to be held in Oslo, Norway, later this year.
New Zealand is particularly concerned about the use of cluster munitions in urban and civilian areas because of the indiscriminate casualties they cause amongst the civilian population.
A cluster munition is a canister containing several sub-munitions or bomblets, which are dispersed over a wide area to destroy moving or unseen targets. While designed to explode on impact, many of the bomblets fail and become a serious humanitarian hazard for people returning to those areas post-conflict.
UN figures show there may be up to one million unexploded submunitions in Southern Lebanon following the August 2006 conflict. Cluster munitions have also been used in past conflicts, including in Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos in our region. These countries continue to suffer from contamination of unexploded cluster munitions in civilian areas.
New Zealand was one of six states that put forward a negotiating mandate on cluster munitions at the Certain Conventional Weapons Review Conference in November 2006. While that mandate did not find consensus, increased momentum was built in support for the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument that addresses the humanitarian concerns posed by cluster munitions. A meeting attended by nearly 50 countries in Oslo, Norway on 22-23 February 2007 agreed to commence negotiations on a new legally-binding instrument: the Oslo Declaration [external link, PDF 12KB]. New Zealand was a co-Chair of that meeting.
The next meeting of the initiative took place in Lima, Peru in May 2007, which New Zealand also attended. Lima saw the beginning of negotiations on a draft text of a treaty on cluster munitions. Vienna hosted the next negotiating meeting in December 2007, followed by the Wellington Conference rom 18-22 February 2008.
New Zealand has also taken concrete measures towards reducing the humanitarian harm caused by cluster munitions contamination in Lebanon. Between February 2007 and February 2008 we sent teams from the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) to Lebanon, comprising explosive ordnance disposal technicians and surveyors, to help locate, map and destroy unexploded cluster munitions.