Total ban on cluster munitions – a moral responsibility

Oct 30, 2008 | Statement

Leaders of Europe’s major religions, representing all parts of our continent, together with representatives from non-governmental organisations and supported by members of the diplomatic community met in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on 29 and 30 October 2008 to address the burning issue of cluster munitions and to express our support for the process to ban these weapons.

The conference was organised by Religions for Peace, the European Council of Religious Leaders and Handicap International Southeast Europe. It was hosted by the Interreligious Council of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Religions for Peace has from its founding in 1970 had a deep commitment to work for nuclear disarmament. Related concerns about peaceful co-existence and prevention of violent conflicts have compelled Religions for Peace to adopt a wider disarmament agenda. As part of this effort, Religions for Peace is joining with the worldwide “Cluster Munitions Coalition” in calling for the end of the production, transfer, stockpiling, and use of cluster munitions.

The issue
Cluster munitions are non-discriminatory and have for more than 40 years killed and wounded innocent people – many of them children – causing untold suffering, loss and hardship for thousands in more than 20 countries. They continue to inflict injury and death for years – sometimes decades – after the end of a war. It is not peace when children cannot play safely in their playgrounds. It is not peace when farmers cannot cultivate their fields, nor fishermen draw their nets without fear. It is not peace when people cannot move freely in their local communities.

Cluster munitions thus keep large groups of people in poverty. The global food crisis increases pressure on people to cultivate areas affected by cluster munitions. The lingering threat of unexploded “bomblets” hampers post-conflict rebuilding and rehabilitation. The dangerous and costly work of clearance absorbs funds that could be spent on other urgent humanitarian needs. Cluster munitions are thus as much a humanitarian issue as it is a disarmament issue. Without determined action, the civilian harm caused by these weapons both during and after conflict will continue to grow.

Religious communities share the conviction that life is a gift of God. Thus dignity and sanctity of life is a value that is deeply held and widely shared by religious communities. This is strongly violated by cluster munitions. The use of cluster munitions is morally reprehensible. No self defence policy or just war theory can legitimate the use of these weapons. Vulnerability is a constituent element of being human. This vulnerability is a moral call to all of us to protect the other.

The Challenges
The conference found the following to be of the utmost importance:

Universalising the Convention on Cluster Munitions
• Governments need to sign the treaty and then to ratify without undue delay so the treaty can come into effect.
• There is a need to work with those governments which do not want to sign the treaty immediately and encourage them to take steps towards signing.
• There is a need for civil society including non-governmental organisations to continue to play their significant role in influencing public opinion and framing of policies in support of the convention.

Implementing the Convention on Cluster Munitions
• The Convention on Cluster Munitions is not effective unless states abide by its obligations. This includes clearance of contaminated areas as well as destruction of stockpiled cluster munitions.
• Countries that have used cluster munitions are responsible for clearing affected areas in the countries where they have used them.
• Affected populations should be educated about the dangers caused by unexploded bomblets in their environments.

Making survivor assistance a priority, nationally and internationally
• Survivor assistance refers to physical care and rehabilitation as well as to economic and social re-integration. The needs of survivors must be addressed through projects and actions including medical care, the building of appropriate infrastructures, educational programmes and assistance. The voice of survivors must be heard and their organisations should be included in these processes. The rights of survivors must be reflected in national and international development programmes and policies.
• It is especially incumbent on faith communities to offer victims and survivors spiritual support in the face of injury, trauma and loss, and in the struggle for recovery and re-inclusion in society.

Our commitment
Our faith traditions call us to stand with those who suffer, and to work together for the well-being of the human family based on our shared commitment to justice and peace.

As religious leaders from Europe’s major religions and representatives of all parts of our continent, we therefore:

• commit ourselves to take action, each in our own context, to support a ban on cluster munitions and to further the implementation of the treaty. We will urge our governments to take bold and committed steps, facilitate dialogue and take necessary action. We will work through our own faith communities to educate people on this issue and encourage them to be agents of change, working in solidarity with the survivors, their families and communities affected by the menace of cluster munitions. We encourage the organisers of this conference to continue to assist religious leaders in their efforts to take action for example through awareness raising, sharing of knowledge and experiences, and direct engagement with affected countries and communities.

• call upon leaders of faith in all religious communities to make their voices heard and to engage with their respective governments and make sure they fulfil their obligations as representatives of the people. We urge them to take leadership in their religious communities to provide spiritual care to those affected and to guide the people of faith and make them instruments for justice and peace.

• call upon European governments to ensure that cluster munitions are banned through signing the treaty, ratifying it, implementing it and contributing in the international work to clean up and dispose of cluster munitions, as well as supporting those affected.

We commend all those within civil society and among state actors who have worked hard to bring us to the point where a convention has been agreed. After the treaty is signed there is still a long way to go. We commit ourselves to continue to be part of this ongoing process for the total elimination of the curse of cluster munitions.

Sarajevo, 30 October 2008