The Scourge of Cluster Bombs & A Journalist Confronts a Banker
August 19, 2011
Jerome Taylor / The Independent & Chris Atkins / The Independent
These indiscriminate killers known as "cluster bombs" leave their deadly legacy from Libya to Lebanon. In early April, as troops loyal to the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi laid siege to the town of Misrata, those trapped inside the port city noticed that their opponents had begun to use a previously unseen artillery round -- MAT-120s, a Spanish-made mortar shell that opens in mid-air and disperses 21-bomblets that create horrendous burns.
The Scourge of Cluster Bombs:
These indiscriminate killers leave their deadly legacy from Libya to Lebanon
/ The Independent
LONDON (16 August 2011) -- In early April, as troops loyal to the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi laid siege to the town of Misrata, those trapped inside the port city noticed that their opponents had begun to use a previously unseen artillery round.
Libya's third-largest city had been seized by rebel forces in early February but, two months later, it was surrounded, cut off from the Benghazi rebels after a series of successful counter-attacks by Gaddafi's troops. The Libyan leader was determined to retake the city and had already shelled the area, despite the presence of tens of thousands of civilians.
As the battle intensified the cluster rounds came out. Waleed Srayti, a local inhabitant, later described to Human Rights Watch what he saw.
"A big battle was going on in Tripoli Street at the vegetable market," he said. "I heard a noise and about nine to 10 things started popping out of the sky over the market. I just saw the pops in the air."
What Mr Srayti had encountered were MAT-120s, a Spanish-made mortar shell which opens in mid-air and disperses 21-bomblets over a wide area. When those bomblets hit their target -- be it a vehicle, a home or a person -- they detonate, spraying out a slug of white-hot molten metal that can penetrate a tank's armour. The hospitals soon filled up with civilians and rebel soldiers exhibiting horrendous burns.
Most countries -- including Britain -- have now banned cluster weapons, recognising that they are inherently indiscriminate. But the sad reality remains that plenty of countries still feel it is perfectly acceptable to use such weapons. Spain -- one of the 108 signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions -- destroyed its stockpile of 1,852 MAT-120s back in 2008, but by then it had already sold an undisclosed number of mortar rounds to Gaddafi.
Persuading despots to abandon their own stockpiles is difficult considering countries like the United States, Russia and China -- the main manufacturers of cluster bombs -- have refused to sign the treaty.
But Libya is not the only country to have recently resorted to cluster bombs. Earlier this year the Cluster Munition Coalition announced that Thailand had fired cluster shells at a Cambodian village during its brief but violent flare-up with its neighbour. It is thought as many as 15,000 sub-munitions still remain in an area 20km from the Preah Vihear Temple including US-made M42, M46 and M85 sub-munitions.
All of which pales in comparison to Israel which, in the dying stages of its 2006 conflict with Hezbollah, dropped more than four million bomblets over southern Lebanon in what the UN described as "a flagrant violation of international law". An estimated 40 percent failed to detonate leaving a deadly legacy. In the past five years more than 50 people have been killed by unexploded bombs, with nearly 400 injured.
The Day I Decided to Confront RBS
About the Blood on its Hands
Chris Atkins / The Independent
"I called all the banks to see if they would discuss their ethical values on camera. Unsurprisingly they all told me where to go."
LONDON (16 August 2011) -- Stephen Hester, chief executive of RBS (which is 83 percent owned by the taxpayer), lives in Holland Park, where one-bedroom flats get snapped up for about £1 million. Last week I paid him a visit to express my disapproval of the financial assistance his bank provides to companies that make cluster bombs. I dressed up as part of an explosives-disposal team and wrapped his house in danger tape.
I was asked by Amnesty International to make a short film about how several of our high-street banks are profiting from cluster munitions. The chances are that you have an account with a bank that has been secretly making money out of several US companies named and shamed by Amnesty for continuing to make the ghastly devices. Barclays, Lloyds TSB, HSBC and RBS will continue making money out of the companies unless we stop them.
The really awful thing about cluster bombs is their longevity. They kill and maim decades after they were dropped, which is presumably why Israel deposited millions of them in the last three days of its Lebanon invasion in 2006.
I wanted to know what effect they would have, so I went to Laos, which has the unhealthy honour of being the most-bombed country in the world. For 10 years during the Vietnam war, the US Air Force repeatedly stamped on this unfortunate population, depositing several hundred million cluster bomblets on to it.
It is estimated that 80 million of them still remain, of which one-third are still dangerous. I won't deny that I kept that information to myself when booking travel insurance.
I was introduced to "Buffalo" Bob, the operations director of the local Mines Advisory Group team -- an NGO that runs cluster-demining programmes all over the world. Bob was a swarthy and immediately likable bloke, and showed me the scars he'd received from "playing" with a cluster bomb when he was a teenager. The experience nearly killed him, but also set him on the path to dedicate his life to ridding his country of them.
We went out to observe a search team in action, which spends its days in the blistering heat combing paddy fields with metal detectors. Even today, 300 people a year are killed in Laos from cluster bombs, even though the fighting stopped nearly 40 years ago.
I spoke to one member of the search team who had lost a leg several years ago when he had been farming in his garden and set a cluster bomb off. Given the standard of healthcare in the country he was extremely fortunate to survive, and the first thought that went through his mind was "How will I be able to look after my family?"
This answered a question that had been on my mind since I heard about the problem – why don't people just stay away from the land with bomblets on it? The answer is that they'll starve if they don't. Having witnessed the appalling effects of cluster bombs first hand, I was furious as to why our banks, especially the ones we own, thought they could turn a coin from making new ones.
So I called all the banks to see if they would care to discuss their ethical values on camera. Unsurprisingly they all told me to piss off.
Undeterred, I marched off to RBS headquarters on Bishopsgate. Most of the bankers were on a direct stagger from their publicly owned desk to the pub. For the few who did bother to speak to me it was to tell me what I could do with my clipboard. Finally one of their merchant bankers had a chat:
Me: "Did you know that RBS are investing in the companies that make cluster bombs?"
Banker: "Excellent -- how much money is it making us?"
"About £20m," I guessed.
(Groans with pleasure) "Print that."
"Is that good for you?
"Yep. How do you think you get paid your benefits?" (I was wearing a pretty grubby T shirt.)
"Er, I'm not on benefits. I'm a journalist."
"How do you think the banks make money? By investing in things."
"But cluster bombs mainly kill civilians."
The effects of cluster munitions are horrific and most of our high-street banks are assisting their production, in direct contravention of an international treaty that Britain has signed.
If we the public tell the banks that they have to stop or they will go the way of the News of the World, they will stop stonewalling and end these murky dealings on the spot. Contact your bank to tell them your views on this and they will have to act.
Chris Atkins is a London-based filmmaker. To watch his report on cluster bombs go to www.amnesty.org.uk/rbs
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.