Feb. 16, 2007 – Human rights groups are urging the Senate to pass a bill that would diminish what the international community has called the United Statesâ€™s "fatal footprint" â€“ the impact of US-funded cluster bombs on civilians.
Cluster bombs, which are typically air dropped but can also be fired from artillery cannons, spread numerous â€“ sometimes hundreds -- of small submunitions known as "bomblets" around the target area. The weapons have proved particularly dangerous for civilians because of the bombletsâ€™ wide dispersal area and because any unexploded submunitions can be set off months or years later.
The Senate bill, introduced by Dianne Feinstein (Dâ€“California) on Wednesday, would prohibit the federal government from using, selling or transferring any cluster munitions unless they have a failure rate of one percent or less and will not be used in areas "where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians."
According to a 2006 report by Handicap International, civilians made up 98 percent of the 11,044 cluster-bomb casualties the organization was able to confirm in 23 countries.The report conceded that much of the data collection was incomplete because comprehensive information was not available for most regions.
The bill, however, does not outlaw all cluster-bomb funding, and it also gives the US president the authority to waive the failure-rate requirement if he or she "certifies that it is vital to protect the security of the United States."
"Although we have concerns about a national-security waiver that would allow the use or export of existing munitions with a high dud rate, this legislation pushes the Bush administration to take the lead among the world's major military powers in regulating these deadly weapons," said Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA executive director, in a press statement.
It is also unclear how effective the new bill will be. Under existing law, the US must monitor governments that buy American weapons to ensure they are used in accordance with its requirements. But last month, the US State Department informed Congress that Israel may have violated an agreement with the United States when it used US-supplied cluster munitions in its summer 2006 war against Lebanon. It does not yet appear that Congressional action is planned or underway.
Later this month, representatives of 40 countries will meet in Oslo, Norway to begin negotiating an international ban on cluster bombs that affect civilians.