Tue May 22, 7:06 PM ET
"While so many of the worlds arms cause so much human misery, cluster munitions deserve to be singled out as an especially pernicious weapon of ill repute," Williams said."They have become synonymous with civilian casualties," the US Nobel laureate read from the statement signed by her and five women Nobel Peace Prize winners: Rigoberta Menchu (Guatemala-1992); Shirin Ebadi (Iran-2003); Wangari Maathai (Kenya-2004); Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire (Ireland-1976).
An international conference opening Wednesday will seek to ban the weapons."We applaud bold initiatives that tackle such issues -- and lend our full support to this new process determined to eliminate cluster munitions," Williams said.Williams, whose work to ban landmines garnered the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, represents the Cluster Munition Coalition, which urged South America to follow Central America, which has already banned the weapons.
Representatives of more than 100 countries are expected in Lima for the conference that follows up on work begun February in Oslo, where 47 countries signed the Oslo Declaration seeking to ban the weapons.Before the conference ends on May 25, plans are to hammer out an international treaty to ban cluster munitions in 2008.Taking part are countries that store or have used or produced cluster bombs, including Britain, France and Germany.
Many countries shattered by their effects such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Lebanon and Laos also were to be on hand.Argentina, Brazil and Chile currently manufacture cluster bombs in South America. While Argentina and Chile have sent representatives, Brazil has not.China, Russia and the United States, the largest manufacturers of cluster bombs, oppose the ban. Israel most recently used the bombs less than a year ago.
Cluster bombs dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground scatter hundreds of explosive "bomblets" over an area the size of two to four football fields, the groups say."They cause too many entirely predictable civilian deaths and injuries during attacks because they saturate such a large area with no degree of precision whatsoever," Williams said.The bomblets explode, spewing fragments over a wide area, and are especially dangerous to children at play and other civilians during battle and for many years afterward, because many do not explode on landing."They go on killing and maiming, for days, weeks, years, even decades after the attacks because they leave behind huge numbers of so-called duds that act just like antipersonnel landmines," Williams said."These indiscriminate, inaccurate and unreliable weapons cannot be allowed to proliferate."Eliminated now, the world will not face their global contamination as it has with landmines," she added.
At least 400 million people live in areas contaminated by these unexploded weapons, the groups said, largely in the Middle East, where they are used by Israel, the former Yugoslavia and South East Asian countries, where the United States deployed them in the 1970s."Few weapons present such a humanitarian problem," says the Cluster Munitions Coalition. "Weapons that do, such as landmines and incendiary bombs, have been banned or regulated and widely stigmatized."