Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cluster Bombs in Lebanon

Yesterday’s Guardian carried an article by Declan Walsh on unexploded cluster bombs in southern Lebanon. Apparently the most popular “release device” – the M26 rocket – scatters 644 bomblets over 20,000 square metres. Many fail to explode on impact, and continue to kill and maim civilians, often children, long after formal hostilities have ceased. In effect, unexploded cluster bombs function as anti-personnel landmines. They have been described by a UN weapons commission as “weapons of indiscriminate effects”. When they do not kill, they inflict horrific injuries. The web-site Bombies explains: “Because the fragments travel at high velocity, when they strike people they set up pressure waves within the body that do horrific damage to soft tissue and organs: even a single fragment hitting somewhere else in the body can rupture the spleen, or cause the intestines to explode. This is not an unfortunate, unintended side-effect; these bombs were designed to do this”. (I can imagine the Pentagon PowerPoint presentation). Needless to say the United States is the world’s largest cluster bomb manufacturer (and last year the US gave Israel £1.2 billion in military aid). According to Walsh cluster bombs are permitted under international law, but it is not permitted to use them in residential areas (Under Article 85 of the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime to launch "an indiscriminate attack affecting the civilian population in the knowledge that such an attack will cause an excessive loss of life or injury to civilians”). Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch says that: “The laws of war don’t ban cluster munitions in all circumstances. But the use of cluster munitions in or near civilian areas violates the ban on indiscriminate attacks, because these weapons cannot be directed at only military targets.” Walsh quotes Chris Clark of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre who says: “We’re finding them in orange plantations, on streets, in cars, near hospitals – pretty much everywhere”. Aisa Hussein, a resident of Yahmour, sums up: “You see what America is sending us. This is their idea of democracy”. Cluster bombs have also been used in e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo. Thousands remain unexploded. Western governments remain deaf to the campaign by human rights organisations to have these dreadful weapons banned.


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