Cluster bombs, artillery shells and missiles are still stockpiled in 69 nations a year after a new international law took effect aimed at phasing them out, a London-based coalition of 200 activist groups said Wednesday.
The London-based Cluster Munition Coalition's tally of these destructive explosive weapons came as diplomats gathered in Geneva to debate plans for phasing them out. The coalition says 12 nations have destroyed part of their stockpiles, leaving at least 610,263 cluster bombs. Casualties involving their use have been reported in 29 countries.
The weapons pose a particular risk to civilians because they indiscriminately scatter smaller "bomblets," some as small as flashlight batteries, packed tightly into hollowed out bombs, artillery shells or missiles that can be dropped from planes or launched from the ground.
Some 61 nations so far have adopted the law, which took effect in August 2010. The law prohibits using, making or stockpiling most traditional cluster munitions, sets strict deadlines for destroying them and clearing contaminated land, and obliges nations to support survivors and affected communities.
Certain types of the weapons are still permitted if their designs include fewer than 10 submunitions and the ability to self-destruct.
But the majority of nations that haven't adopted it still possess the bulk of the cluster munitions. That includes the U.S., which insists the bombs are a valid weapon of war when used properly. China, Russia, India and Pakistan also reject the law.
A single container targeting airfields or tanks typically scatters hundreds of the mini-explosives over an area the size of a football field. The U.S. has used the weapon in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Soviet and Russian troops also used them in Angola, Afghanistan and Chechnya, where the leftover duds continue to inflict casualties, particularly on children.
They most recently were used in April in Libya, when forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi fired MAT-120 mortar projectiles containing submunitions into the opposition-held city of Misrata, the coalition said in its annual report Wednesday.
It said Spain in June confirmed providing Libya with 1,055 cluster munitions in 2006 and 2008, before Spain joined the convention banning them.
The coalition said Thailand fired cluster munitions into Cambodia during border clashes in February, and both sides used them in the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.
The campaign against the weapons picked up steam after Israel's monthlong war against Hezbollah in 2006, when it scattered up to 4 million of the munitions across Lebanon.
The U.S., meanwhile, is pushing for another cluster arms agreement.
Harold Koh, a U.S. State Department legal adviser, said from Washington on Wednesday the U.S. proposal to outlaw cluster munitions produced before 1980 would entice the world's nations holding up to nine-tenths of all cluster munitions to join in the effort.
He said it would immediately prohibit about a third of the U.S. stash of more than 6 million such weapons. "And we think that this is a very significant humanitarian impact and should be supported," Koh said.
However, Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the U.S. plan could set "an unfortunate precedent in international humanitarian law" by allowing use of cluster munitions made since 1980, including those with no safety features, until 2026 or longer.
Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch said the new agreement sought by the Obama administration amounted to backsliding. "We find this outrageous," he told reporters.
The United States under the Bush administration had promised that by the end of 2018 it would no longer use cluster munitions that result in more than 1 percent unexploded ordnance _ a tougher measure than the current proposal. Usually 10 to 15 percent _ but in some cases up to 80 percent _ of the devices fail to explode immediately.
Goose said at nearly 17,000 deaths or injuries from cluster bombs have been confirmed globally through 2010. But because of underreporting, he said, the actual casualty figure is estimated at between 20,000 and 54,000.
(This version corrects that weapons weren't banned.)