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Hundreds of millions of people affected by 440 million cluster submunitions

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Hundreds of millions of people affected by 440 million cluster submunitions

Brussels/Geneva - 16 May 2007 - Ninety-eight percent of cluster submunitions casualties are civilians killed and injured while returning home in the aftermath of conflict or while going about their daily tasks to survive. These are some of the findings of Circle of Impact: The Fatal Footprint of Cluster Munitions on People and Communities, the new Handicap International (HI) report which documents the impact of cluster munitions on the lives of people and communities in 25 countries and areas.(1)

The new report comes just one week before states gather in Lima, Peru (23-25 May), to discuss a draft text of a new treaty to ban cluster munitions and create a framework for cooperation and assistance to survivors and communities affected this weapon by 2008. Since the failure of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW in Geneva), the Oslo Process this February resulted in at least 55 countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Germany, Japan, Lebanon, the United Kingdom and even the United States taking initiatives towards a prohibition on cluster munitions.

Despite a general lack of information on casualties both during and after strikes, it is clear unexploded cluster submunitions turn homes, livelihood and social areas of 400 million people living in affected countries into de facto minefields.(2) A total of 13,306 casualties due to cluster submunitions are confirmed. However, as 96 percent of casualties occur in countries where there is no or limited data collection, there are undoubtedly more casualties. In high-use locations, such as Iraq there were more than 1,000 casualties during strikes and more than 4,000 casualties in Lao PDR after strikes. "If we are to put these numbers of casualties during and after strikes together a chilling picture of the devastating human impact emerges," says Marc Joolen, the Director-General of HI.

Cluster submunitions threaten civilians when they are most vulnerable, a distinct spike in casualties was identified during the "returnee" period directly after the end of a conflict in most of the high-use countries, such as Afghanistan, Albania, Kosovo, Lao PDR. Populations unaware of and unprepared for the dangers of unexploded cluster submunitions constitute the largest group of cluster submunitions casualties. Incidents occur when people assess damage to their houses and gardens. Children playing are especially in danger during this period. In Kosovo, 53 percent of casualties occurred in the two months after the end of the conflict, most of them were boys between five and 15.

Given the precarious economic situation of most people after a conflict, cluster submunitions also affect the most vulnerable group - the poorest of the poor. More than 60 percent of all casualties occur when people carry out their daily livelihood activities or have no choice but to work on contaminated land. The majority of victims are poor, uneducated males at work representing 76.8 percent of total confirmed casualties. Many of these are boys under the age of 18. In Lebanon, nearly 90 percent of land used for farming and shepherding is contaminated with unexploded cluster submunitions.

As men and boys are the traditional earners and the majority of casualties, the socio-economic loss for both the immediate term and the distant future cannot be underestimated. Cluster munitions use creates a vicious circle of impact on communities and medical costs related to incidents are a heavy burden on poor families. Education opportunities decrease, unemployment rises, as does psychological trauma and isolation for those who become victims, leading to increased poverty and risk-taking. Cluster munitions contamination also adversely impacts broader development, reconstruction and human security as it delays the return of internally displaced people and blocks land for road and electricity construction.

In the six months since the release of preliminary research findings the Handicap International report has also identified new areas with casualties from cluster submunitions: Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan) and eight more where cluster munitions use and subsequent casualties are likely.

Although cluster munitions were first deployed during the Second World War as indiscriminate widearea weapons, analysis of information on cluster munitions strike locations and targets (obtained for only nine countries) since 1965 shows that usage is nearly always in or near civilian populated areas - against unknown or unspecified targets - often to replace the use of ground troops. In Lao PDR, 52.8 million cluster submunitions fell in or near villages - this is more than all the cluster munitions used in Iraq. In Afghanistan and Iraq, most of the major cities were targeted, resulting in unavoidable loss of life both during and after strikes. In Kosovo, cluster munitions were used by NATO without the deployment of any NATO troops. Similar patterns are observed in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

The way in which cluster munitions have been used led one US military representative to respond to HI's shock that 98 percent of casualties are civilian with: "Why are you surprised?" In the Oslo Process most discussion in the negotiations will center on definitions and "technical fixes" but it is important to remember the words of a key Norwegian diplomat saying that, "this process was started because of devastating impact of these weapons on human lives. We need to be doing this for the people; they are at the center of this treaty."

The long-lasting effects of cluster munitions on the security and sanctity of homes and livelihoods are hard facts and assuring a secure and productive "circle of life" is the responsibility of all who share it. "The true spirit of the treaty will be known by how it addresses the human impact of cluster munitions," adds Katleen Maes, Victim Assistance Coordinator at HI.

Circle of Impact: The Fatal Footprint of Cluster Munitions on People and Communities is the definitive comprehensive study systematically analyzing the impact of cluster munitions on civilian populations through casualty data and socioeconomic impact profiles. It utilizes information available on casualties of cluster submunitions and cluster munitions strike data to track the human impact from the initial cluster munitions strikes, over the short-term emergency phase, to the postconflict period, which affect the lives of individuals, families and communities for generations.

Circle of Impact: The Fatal Footprint of Cluster Munitions on People and Communities and related documents are available online in various languages from 13:00 GMT on 16 May at:

http://www.handicapinternational.be

For more information or to schedule and interview contact: _ Hildegarde Vansintjan: + 32 485 111 460 (Brussels) _ Samantha Bolton: + 41 79 239 23 66 (Geneva)

Handicap International is an international organisation specialised in the field of disability. Non-governmental, nonreligious, non-political and non-profit making, it works alongside people with disabilities, whatever the context, offering them assistance and supporting them in their efforts to become self-reliant. Since its creation, the organisation has set up programmes in approximately 60 countries and intervened in many emergency situations. It has a network of eight national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, United Kingdom, USA) which provide human and financial resources, manage projects and raise awareness of Handicap International's actions and campaigns.

Notes

(1) These countries and areas are: Afghanistan, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chad, Chechnya (Russian Federation), Croatia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Montenegro, Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan), Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Vietnam and Western Sahara (Morocco).

(2) The estimate of 440 million cluster submunitions used is undoubtedly conservative as it reflects the situation in only nine countries and should be considered the minimum number of submunitions dispensed since 1965.