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.
For more information, see:
- Convention on Cluster Munitions websites on the sixth meeting by the United Nations, Implementation Support Unit, and Cluster Munition Coalition. Periscope recording of Syria briefing-startes at 4:30.
- Our previous posts on the Suspension of US Transfers (May 2016), and Summary of Use of US Cluster Munitions in Yemen (Feb. 2016), Civilian Victims in Yemen (June 2015), and US Cluster Bombs in Yemen (May 2015).
- Cluster Munition Monitor 2016, annual report by the CMC, including updated ban profiles on the United States, Syria, and Yemen.