Cluster Bomb Criminals Bounced from World's Largest Arms Fair
September 17, 2011
Nick Hopkins / The Guardian
The world's largest arms fair has thrown out two exhibitors after they were found to be promoting cluster munitions that have been banned by the UK and condemned by more than 100 other countries. The action was taken after Caroline Lucas, the Green party leader, discovered that Pakistani arms manufacturers were actively promoting "banned cluster bombs" at their pavilions.
Companies Ejected from London
Arms Fair for 'Promoting Cluster Bombs'
LONDON (September 16, 2011) -- The world's largest arms fair has thrown out two exhibitors after they were found to be promoting cluster munitions that have been banned by the UK and condemned by more than 100 other countries.
The organisers of the London exhibition said they had been unaware that the material was available and an investigation had been launched. But campaigners rounded on the Defence and Security Equipment International fair, saying it was "unbelievable" that more thorough checks had not been undertaken.
The action was taken after Caroline Lucas, the Green party leader, discovered that Pakistani arms manufacturers were actively promoting "banned cluster bombs" at their pavilions. Details of the munitions were in brochures readily available to potential customers.
A statement from DSEI confirmed that the two stands had been closed on Thursday evening.
"(We) can confirm that the Pakistan Ordnance Factory stand and Pakistan's Defence Export Promotion Organisation pavilion have both been permanently shut down after promotional material was found … containing references to equipment, which after close examination, was found to breach UK government export controls and our own contractual requirements.
[The] government fully supports the decision by DSEI to close the stand and the pavilion. We are currently investigating how this breach of our compliance system occurred."
Three years ago, the UK joined other sigNATOries to the Oslo accord, which specifically prohibits "all use, stockpiling, production and transfer" of cluster weapons; they are considered particularly lethal because they are designed to release dozens, sometimes hundreds of "bomblets" on their targets.
They have been widely condemned because they have killed and injured hundreds of civilians long after conflicts have ended. One third of all such casualties are thought to have been children.
The episode is an embarrassment to the fair, which has had 1,300 firms from more than 40 countries seeking orders for weapons. Earlier this week, the defence secretary Liam Fox gave a speech there, saying that "defence and security exports play a key role in promoting our foreign policy objectives".
Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion, has now written to Vince Cable, the business secretary, saying she remains "deeply concerned" at the level of scrutiny given to the companies who exhibit at DSEI, which has been running all week at the Excel centre in London's Docklands.
"I was able to find illegal advertising materials on the basis of one short visit to the exhibition with few resources at my disposal," she said. "There's no telling what other breaches are occurring and might be uncovered with further research." It should not be left to MPs and campaigners to police illegal promotion of banned arms on British soil.
Lucas said there is an "inherent conflict between the government's promotion of military exports and its stated desire to help protect human rights overseas."
Oliver Sprague, of Amnesty International, said: "It is almost unbelievable. It's not just cluster bombs, either. Earlier this week we found brochures (on different stands), which appear to show illegal torture equipment being advertised. It is quite amazing that it has taken a Green MP and Amnesty international to find things that are clearly illegal."
Kaye Stearman of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, condemned the "laxness" that had allowed the companies to promote illegal equipment. "They should never have been allowed in," she added.
A spokesman for DSEI said it had no further comment. The Pakistan Ordnance Factory could not be reached for comment.
Earlier this week the Guardian reported that Pakistan was also advertising an "arms for peace" exhibition in Karachi next year as well as "gold-plated" submachine guns, "for collectors."
Q&A: Cluster Bombs
The UK is preparing to dispose of its arsenal of cluster bombs, according to sources. But why are the bombs among the most controversial weapons used in modern warfare?
Peter Walker / The Guardian
LONDON (May 28, 2008) -- What are cluster bombs?
Cluster bombs consist of a single, large bomb unit that is either dropped from the air or fired by a launcher. The unit splits into many dozens of tiny, explosive "bomblets" that can spread over hundreds of square metres before reaching the ground. The bomblets, which are about the size of a soft drinks can, contain fragments of metal and are designed to detonate on impact.
What is their intended use?
Because they spread out over such a wide area cluster bombs are viewed as particularly effective against ground troops, although anti-tank variants and other types are also used.
Why are they so controversial?
Cluster bombs are indiscriminate in that they maim and kill people over a large area. Additionally, a small percentage of the bomblets – often estimated at around 7% to 10%, depending on the type – fail to detonate on hitting the ground. They can be accidentally triggered by civilians years later. The bomblets are often brightly coloured, making them attractive for children to pick up.
How many people are harmed?
The only organisation that has attempted to measure the numbers injured or killed by cluster bombs is Handicap International. In a 2006 report, based on research in 24 countries, it uncovered more than 11,000 confirmed casualties, of whom 98% were civilians. Extrapolated worldwide, the total casualty figure could be as high as 100,000, according to the charity.
Where have cluster bombs been used?
Handicap International has compiled a list of countries and regions affected by unexploded cluster bombs: Afghanistan, Albania, Bosnia, Cambodia, Chad, Croatia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Kosovo, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Montenegro, Western Sahara, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam.
Does the UK still use cluster weapons?
Yes. The British military continues to use them 10 years after it banned the use of landmines in 1998. The British army dropped 113,190 of two cluster bomb types in Iraq, according to Ministry of Defence figures, and 78,057 in Kosovo, according to NATO figures. In March 2007 the defence secretary, Des Browne, withdrew two "dumb" cluster munitions from service: the airdropped BL755 and the rocket-launched M26.
The MoD still uses the M85, an Israeli-made cluster bomb with a built-in self-destruct mechanism intended to prevent unexploded bomblets littering a landscape. The manufacturers claim a failure rate of just 0.06%, but critics say this is actually far higher when the bombs are used.
The UK also continues to use the helicopter-launched M73, which the MoD says does not count as a cluster bomb as it subdivides into just nine smaller devices. Opponents say the large number of bombs that can be fired at once means hundreds of bomblets can end up falling.
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