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Cluster Munitions

Volume 454: debated on Monday 11 December 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment he has made of the impact of the use of cluster munitions on developing countries once direct conflict has ceased. (105336)

Once direct conflict has ended, cluster munitions, if they have been used in large numbers, are likely to affect humanitarian relief and reconstruction efforts. Certain types of cluster munitions have unacceptably high failure rates, which vary in relation to the prevailing conditions in which they are used. If they are used in large numbers, unexploded bomblets can be left scattered densely and indiscriminately over a wide area. When these are set off, the explosion can kill anyone within 50m. They represent a threat to aid workers, peace-keepers, medical services, internally displaced persons and anyone else entering an area immediately after the cessation of hostilities. The design of cluster munitions means that often children are attracted to them. The threat to returning civilians is exacerbated when cluster munitions are used over soft terrain such as recently ploughed farmland. Unexploded bomblets can lie buried just beneath the surface making it dangerous for farmers to cultivate their land.

Casualty figures are hard to verify but reports indicate that unexploded cluster munitions killed thousands of civilians in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The UN reports around 1 million unexploded cluster bomblets in Southern Lebanon. So far,23 civilian deaths and 145 injuries have resulted from unexploded ordnance, mainly cluster munitions. It will take an estimated 12-15 months to clear this area of unexploded ordnance.

Under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) unexploded cluster munitions are classified as Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). The UK played an active role in the adoption of CCW Protocol V on ERW, which will provide increased protection for civilians from the post-conflict effects of ERW, including cluster munitions. We are taking steps to ratify Protocol V as soon as possible. UK military doctrine, operations and our use of cluster munitions are already in accordance with Protocol V.