9 September 2006

Vicious weapons should be banned

By Andrew Boswell

The UN estimates that around 120,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance litter southern Lebanon - the vast majority cluster bomblets. These are one of the most vicious weapons ever to come out of man’s imagination.

As Kate Gilmore, executive deputy secretary general of Amnesty, said last week: "The use of cluster bombs in the heart of where people live clearly violates the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks and is therefore a grave violation of international humanitarian law."

Cluster bombs been dropped in large areas of Lebanon: close to homes and on farmland, where they will remain for many months, possibly years. Every day, these crude weapons kill and maim people. Since the ceasefire, they have already killed 13 people and wounded almost 50. They also affect people's livelihoods by killing and wounding animals - hundreds of Lebanese sheep have already been killed - and preventing farmers from working their fields.

Israeli has not provided maps of the cluster bombed areas, causing severe danger to civilians, particularly children. Jan Egeland, UN Humanitarian Affairs chief, said last week "What's shocking and completely immoral is 90 percent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution".

Israel agreed in 1976, when US cluster-bomb sales to Israel started, to only use the munitions against organised Arab armies and clearly defined military targets. After the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the US Congress found it guilty of using cluster bombs in civilian areas and Washington halted cluster-bomb sales to Israel for six months. Now, the US State Department is investigating, once again, whether Israel’s use of these weapons breaks agreements Israel made with the US when buying the weapons.

The losers of the Israel - Hezbollah conflict are civilians on both sides. The war, following Israeli's disproportionate attack, has no winners. Now there is a fragile ceasefire, the disproportionate suffering and legacy in Lebanon goes largely unreported, as the 5-second concentration span media has turned its attention elsewhere. In Lebanon, there are over 1300 people dead, a third of them children, more than 4,000 wounded, and over a million citizens displaced.

This is the human cost of the 'War on Terror' rhetoric, supported by the UK and US, that allowed Israel to proceed without international restraint. This crude strategy is leading to ever greater conflict and terrorism worldwide, as it destroys innocent civilians, through indiscriminate destruction including cluster bombs.

We have rules of War, like the Geneva conventions that are meant to protect civilian lives – yet these are now flagrantly broken, and broken more often, in the 'War on Terror'. Breaking these rules constitutes war crimes, yet, in recent years governments and their military have mostly avoided any legal retribution.

Now momentum is building for Israeli ministers and military to face trials for war crimes against civilians in this summer’s mad rampage.

In Lebanon itself, parliament member Ghassan Moukheiber, an attorney and a member of the parliament’s human rights committee has recently spoken of how Lebanese and international civil society organisations, are collecting data and establishing a network of lawyers, to do this (See website tinyurl.com/q3sld).

Action will be taken in several ways. Dual nationality Lebanese can sue the Israeli authorities within national domestic laws of their countries. Lebanese from Canada, America, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Brazil and Kuwait who have suffered injury or loss are planning this.

And not only Lebanese citizens – remember the appalling day of attacks on a UN post in Southern Lebanon that killed 4 peacemaker soldiers? Now the wife of a Canadian United Nations peacekeeper is suing Israel in Canada.

As many lawsuits are prepared, the Israeli foreign ministry has been forced to issue a memorandum warning public officials to watch what they say in public for fear of being prosecuted for war crimes. The ministry is also has establishing a legal team to fight such cases.

Another possible course of action being considered by the Lebanese government is the international criminal court, ICC. Is it possible that we will see high ranking Israelis such as the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, or even the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, appear in The Hague where Milosevic went before? These people may find it difficult to travel in the future - Danish politician, Frank Aaen, tried to have Livni detained and prosecuted when she recently visited Copenhagen.

The Green MEP Caroline Lucas called for an international ban on cluster bombs during a European parliament debate on Wednesday. I support this – outlawing cluster bombs is long overdue. It is essential too to prosecute those inflicting war on civilians and children – without this justice, the future looks bleak.