by Reuters –
GENEVA (November 28, 2003) — More than 90 countries, including the United States, have committed themselves to cleaning up after war in a bid to cut the huge number of civilian casualties from munitions left by armed conflicts.
Under a new treaty, approved by member states of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), countries must remove or tell others how to find their unexploded cluster and mortar bombs, missiles and other weaponry.
The new rules, which will be legally binding on signatory states, will come into force when the new protocol to the CCW convention has been formally ratified by 20 member states.
Although there are no agreed figures for the victims of explosive remnants of war — the technical term for the lethal debris — activists say it runs into tens of thousands of injured, maimed and killed each year.
Sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 24 countries and territories are strewn with abandoned or unexploded ordnance, is probably the worst affected, but the threat is also great to civilians in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
Updating the 1997 Ottawa Convention
The protocol is the latest international attempt to reduce the suffering of civilians in war, following on the from the 1997 Ottawa Convention which outlaws the use of landmines.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has been one of the leading advocates of a treaty, welcomed the pact, although some non-governmental organisations criticised the vagueness of some of the wording. “The treaty is an important recognition that states are responsible for eliminating this serious threat to civilians in the aftermath of war,” said ICRC Vice-President Jacques Foster.
Besides having to clear areas they control, states should keep a record of ordnance used to speed its recovery, warn civilians of the dangers and provide technical, material and financial assistance when they themselves cannot do the work.
It is the first time the US administration of President George W. Bush, which has expressed scepticism about the effectiveness of international arms control treaties, has joined a new global weapons pact. But diplomats said it was too soon to say whether it reflected a real change of line by the US government.
The United States, Russia and China are amongst 50 countries not to have joined the Ottawa treaty against landmines, whose victims are mainly civilians.
Although the rules of the new protocol might be difficult to enforce, particularly when it came to rebel groups, diplomats said it could be a source of moral persuasion as in the case of the landmine ban.
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