Wednesday, September 14, 2016

During President Obama's historic visit to Laos, he met with cluster bomb victims and toured the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) visitors' centre in Vientiane with its operations manager Soksai Sengvongkham on September 7, 2016. © 2016 Khamchanh Phetsouphan

During President Obama's historic visit to Laos, he met with cluster bomb victims and toured the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) visitors' centre in Vientiane with its operations manager Soksai Sengvongkham on September 7, 2016. © 2016 Khamchanh Phetsouphan

On August 30, Textron Systems announced it is stopping its production of CBU-105 sensor fuzed weapons, making it the last US manufacturer to cease production of cluster munitions.

Textron's announcement came a week before states participating in the sixth annual meeting of the Convention on Cluster Munitions adopted a declaration in which they “condemn any use by any actor” and further state “We are deeply concerned by any and all allegations, reports or documented evidence of the use of cluster munitions, most notably in Syria and Yemen in the past year.”

The United States did not attend the meeting, which took place at the same time as President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Laos, the most heavily cluster munition contaminated country in the world. During his visit, the president met with cluster bomb victims and announced a significant increase of funds--$30 million per year for the next three years--to clear and destroy explosive remnants of war. The White House published an article by Channapha Khamvongsa, director of Legacies of War, a member of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC).

President Obama did not address the question of when the US will ban cluster munitions. In May 2016, the Obama administration suspended US transfers of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia, including sales and deliveries. This followed numerous reports from Yemen by Human Rights Watch and others detailing cluster munition attacks on civilian areas by a Saudi-led coalition of states in an operation against Houthi forces known as Ansar Allah that started in late March 2015. 

A congressional initiative led by Representative John Conyers Jr. that sought to legislate the US suspension of cluster munition transfers to Saudi Arabia was narrowly defeated on June 16, 2016. The failure does not affect the suspension decision, which remains in effect.

Public pressure against Textron, manufacturer of the cluster munitions used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, mounted in 2016 with demonstrations by local activists and arrests outside the company's headquarters in Providence, Rhode Island.

Textron's step followed a similar decision last November by Singapore Technologies Engineering that it has stopped producing cluster munitions. It said it is “now no longer in the business of designing, producing and selling” cluster munitions or “any related key components.”  Both companies were asked repeatedly by the investor community and a "stop explosive investments" campaign led by Dutch civil society group PAX about why they were producing weapons banned by international law.

Textron was the last US manufacturer of cluster munitions in the US so its decision has been welcomed by US members of the Cluster Munition Coalition. According to CMC chair Human Rights Watch, the decision clears the path for the US to end production, transfer, and use of all cluster munitions, which would enable it to join the treaty.

On September 5-7, during the treaty meeting in Geneva, Human Rights Watch reported at least eight cluster munition attacks in Syria, some of which killed and injured civilians, including children. It cited evidence provided by local activists and journalists as well as by first responders from Syria Civil Defense, also known as the "White Helmets," a search-and-rescue volunteer group that operates in opposition-held areas of Syria. 

Raed al Saleh, director of Syria Civil Defense, addressed a briefing for treaty delegates on cluster munitions in Syria while Bonnie Docherty of HRW listed steps that can be taken to stop the use. Saleh explained how it conducts emergency clearance of unexploded submunitions and other explosive remnants of war. That evening, a reported cluster munition attack killed two Syria Civil Defense volunteers and wounded two as they were responding to an earlier air attack on the town of Khan Shaykhoun in Idlib governorate. 

The Cluster Munition Coalition announced the deaths during the plenary the following morning. 

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