AFRICA: Call to ban cluster bombs

Monday, September 29, 2008

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu called cluster munitions "an abomination whose manufacture and use should not be tolerated by any government", amid calls for African countries to do more to ensure the weapons are banned.

"Many countries in Africa, including Uganda, have experienced wars and conflicts over the last 30 years," the UN Resident Representative in Uganda, Theophane Nikyema, said in an address to the two-day regional conference in Kampala, which began on 29 September.

"As a result, too many countries have been contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance. Innocent civilians are killed or maimed by these weapons both at the time of use and long after the fighting has ended," he added.

One such innocent civilian was Berihu Messele from Ethiopia.

"An aircraft bombed our village on 5 June 1998," he told IRIN at the conference. "I live nearby [so] I rushed out of my house to go and help survivors. In the process, I stepped on to a sub-munition, which blew off both my legs before I suffered a blackout."

Now confined to a wheelchair, Berihu urged African countries to campaign against the use of the bomb. He called on the 43 African governments at the meeting to support the signing of a treaty in Oslo on 3 December that will ban the production of cluster munitions.

"The aim is to ban cluster bombs," he added. "I don't want people to suffer like myself because of these munitions."

Another survivor, Margaret Arach, from northern Uganda, called for both signing and ratification of the convention as well as implementation. "The first initiative must come from states, then other stakeholders should be brought on board," Arach, who lost one of her limbs, said.

"We do not want new victims, we should be the last," she added.

Thirty-four African states adopted the convention against cluster bombs in May, while 19 had yet to adopt it. Uganda, which has about 2,000 survivors, said it was ready to sign.

Manufacturers absent

"Negotiations to bring manufacturers on board have made no progress, but we are engaging them and in the end we want to get everybody on board, including the producers," Austrian Ambassador to Uganda Ronald Hauser said.
Two African countries are known to produce the bombs - Egypt and South Africa. Globally, 24 countries produce more than 210 different types of air-dropped and surface-launched cluster munitions, including projectiles, aircraft bombs and dispensers.

The bombs are stockpiled by at least 77 states and have been used in at least 31 countries or disputed territories.

"Africa has for long been a dumping ground for these weapons," Ugandan Minister Tarsis Kabwegyere, who represented President Yoweri Museveni, told the conference.

"These weapons should not be used, transferred, stockpiled or produced. We should have penalties and we should put deadlines for countries to sign," he added.

"The UN calls upon all countries to sign the convention in Oslo on 3 December and to ratify as quickly as possible so as to allow its swift entry into force," Nikyema told reporters.