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Strong landmark African Declaration to ban cluster bombs - only South Africa calls for exceptions to the ban

(Livingstone, Zambia, 1 April 2008) At the conclusion of the first ever meeting of African countries on cluster bombs, 38 out of 39 countries attending the meeting endorsed a strong political "Livingstone Declaration", committing them to negotiating a global ban on the weapons in Dublin next month. Only South Africa, one of the continent's two producer states, called for exceptions to the ban.

"This is the first time that African states have met to consolidate their position to ban cluster bombs and it is clear that they will champion the global effort to achieve a watertight treaty to ban this deadly weapon. Africa is ready for Dublin," said Robert Mtonga, Zambian representative and Steering Committee member of the CMC.

Governments from 39 countries in Africa discussed the most controversial topics to be resolved during the forthcoming two week diplomatic negotiation in Dublin from 19-30 May. African governments highlighted the definition of cluster munitions as the most critical issue for negotiation.

Over the two day conference governments voiced widespread support for a broad definition that would not allow for exceptions based on so-called 'technical fixes' and on the need for far reaching humanitarian provisions for affected communities, including support for victims and clearance of their land. The Livingstone Declaration sets out the African context and priorities for the new treaty and formally commits endorsing states to negotiate the new treaty in Dublin to ban cluster bombs.

"There is now great momentum and strong political will in Africa to ban cluster munitions. African countries took a huge step this week to stop the proliferation of this outdated weapon on their continent and to promote human security all around the world," said Thomas Nash, Coordinator of the CMC.

South Africa was the only country at the conference to stray from the common African line in favour of a comprehensive prohibition. South Africa, one of the continent's two producer states, argued that certain cluster munitions with "a 98% reliability rate" are legitimate weapons of war.

South Africa stands alone in Africa in defending cluster munitions and its argument that a certain maximum percentage failure rate would justify such weapons is now increasingly isolated amongst other stockpilers participating in the Oslo Process. Many of these states, such as Canada, France and the UK, have moved away from proposals for exceptions to the new treaty based only on a percentage failure rate.

"We are concerned to hear South Africa arguing in favour of keeping cluster munitions. They are not only isolated in Africa but isolated in the world. We hope they will revise their position and join with the rest of Africa in coming to Dublin determined to ban all these weapons," said Kennedy Mabasa of Ceasefire, a CMC member in South Africa.

Governments also discussed the controversial issue of "transition periods", that would allow for continued use of a banned weapon for some time after the ban. While the UK and Germany have proposed this, African states strongly rejected the notion. Countries also rejected exceptions which would allow joint military operations in which signatory states could assist with the use of cluster munitions by states that have not signed the ban.

Notes:

The following governments participated in the Livingstone Conference: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Comoros, Congo Brazzaville, Cote D'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

In addition to endorsing the Livingstone Declaration, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Tanzania and Zimbabwe joined 19 other African countries which have already committed to the Wellington Declaration. The Wellington Declaration was the final document of the last international conference on cluster munitions endorsed by 86 countries in New Zealand in February 2008, which all states must formally endorse in order to attend the Dublin Diplomatic Conference.

For more information and to set up interviews: Samantha Bolton, mob. +41 79 239 2366 samanthaboltonSPAMFLTER@SPATMFLTERgmail.com

Or call interviewees direct in Livingstone:

-  Thomas Nash, CMC Coordinator, mob. +447711926730

-  Bob Mtonga, CMC Africa, mob: +260 977 842 922

Interviews are also available from CMC campaigners in other languages including Arabic, German, Spanish and Portuguese

Notes to Editor:

At least 76 countries stockpile cluster munitions and 34 are known to have produced more than 210 types of cluster munitions. 14 states have used cluster munitions in at least 30 countries and territories.

In Africa, cluster munitions have been used in the Western Sahara (1975-1988), Chad (1986-1987), Angola ('92-'94), Sudan ('96 - '99), Sierra Leone ('97), Ethiopia and Eritrea ('98), DR Congo ('98 -'03), and in Uganda (Gulu).

Of the 76 countries that have stockpiles of cluster munitions, 13 are African countries (Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, Zimbabwe). Though Uganda recently announced their intent to destroy existing stockpiles.

Of the 28 countries producing Cluster Munitions, only two, Egypt and South Africa, are from the region. Of the 47 countries that endorsed the start of the Oslo Declaration, four are from Africa.

The CMC is an international network of over 250 civil society organisations in 60 countries committed to protecting civilians from the effects of cluster munitions. Members of the CMC network work together on an international campaign calling on governments to conclude a new international treaty banning cluster munitions by 2008. More information on the CMC is available online at http://www.stopclustermunitions.org

Launched November 2003, the CMC is campaigning for the diplomatic Oslo Process to result in a strong international treaty prohibiting cluster munitions. It is also working nationally to restrict cluster munitions through domestic measures such as a moratorium or a legislated ban, as Austria, Belgium, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Norway have done.

What are cluster bombs?

Cluster munitions are large weapons which are deployed from the air by aircraft including fighters, bombers and helicopters and release dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions. Submunitions released by air-dropped cluster bombs are most often called "bomblets, while those delivered from the ground are usually referred to as "grenades.". First, their wide-area effect virtually guarantees civilian casualties when they are used in populated areas. Second, many of the submunitions do not explode on impact as designed, causing civilian casualties for months or years to come.

What's the problem with this weapon?

Air-dropped or ground-launched, they cause two major humanitarian problems and risks to civilians. First, their widespread deployment means they cannot distinguish between military targets and civilians so the humanitarian impact can be extreme when the weapon is used in or near populated areas.

Secondly, many bomblets fail to detonate on impact and become de facto antipersonnel mines killing and maiming people long after the conflict has ended. These duds are however more lethal than antipersonnel mines; incidents involving submunition duds are much more likely to cause death than injury.

Who has used cluster munitions?

At least 14 countries have used cluster munitions: Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Israel, Morocco, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia (USSR), Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, UK, US, and FR Yugoslavia. A small number of non-state armed groups have used the weapon (such as Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006). Billions of submunitions are stockpiled by some 76 countries. A total of 34 states are known to have produced over 210 different types cluster munitions. At least 24 countries have been affected by the use of cluster munitions including Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chad, Croatia, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Montenegro, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Uganda, and Vietnam.

Why is a ban on cluster munitions necessary?

Simply put, cluster munitions kill and injure too many civilians. The weapon caused more civilian casualties in Iraq in 2003 and Kosovo in 1999 than any other weapon system.

Cluster munitions stand out as the weapon that poses the gravest dangers to civilians since antipersonnel mines, which were banned in 1997. Yet there is currently no provision in international law to specifically address problems caused by cluster munitions. Israel's massive use of the weapon in Lebanon in August 2006 resulted in more than 200 civilian casualties in the year following the ceasefire and served as the catalyst that has propelled governments to attempt to secure a legally-binding international instrument tackling cluster munitions in 2008.

What is the Oslo Process?

In February 2007, forty-six governments met in Oslo to endorse a call by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre to conclude a new legally binding instrument in 2008 that prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm and provides adequate resources to assist survivors and clear contaminated areas.

Subsequent Oslo Process meetings including in Peru (May 2007) and Austria (December2007) have increased the number of countries endorsing the Oslo Process treaty objective to more than 90 by the end of 2007. clusterprocess.org/

What happens after Livingstone?

After the Livingstone Conference concludes, countries will prepare to negotiate the cluster munition treaty in Dublin, Ireland from 19-30 May 2008. At the negotiations, they will agree to the final terms and language of the treaty, which will then be opened signature before the end of 2008 with a signing ceremony in Oslo, Norway (where the process began). The cluster munition treaty will represent the most significant advance in the field of disarmament since the achievement of the 1997 treaty prohibiting antipersonnel mines.

For more information on CMC: www.stopclustermunitions.org