Holy See: Cluster Bombs Never Acceptable

Says Neither Military Nor Financial Pretexts Validate Their Use

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Both military and financial excuses to defend the use of cluster bombs are unacceptable, the Holy See says.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer to the U.N. offices in Geneva, affirmed this during a session for a group of government experts from states that have accepted the U.N. Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects.

In his address, published Tuesday by the Vatican press office, Archbishop Tomasi recognized that "experience shows us how the prohibition of certain categories of arms in a good faith negotiation with international organizations has never placed states' national security in danger."

"The true danger is owed more to 'over-armament' and the fact of trusting only in arms for assuring national and international security," he added. "Development, reciprocal trust, prevention, and creating conditions for a dignified life are parameters without which security or stability are impossible."

The prelate said the affirmation of a military need for cluster bombs "appears to us unacceptable."

He said, "Since cluster bombs were used for the first time, why have international humanitarian rights regulations been disrespected, above all that of the distinction between civilians and soldiers?"

He further denounced financial pretexts given to defend the use of cluster bombs, saying this "appears unacceptable to us if the importance of the military budgets" of the countries that offer this excuse "is seriously taken into account."

Papal appeal

Archbishop Tomasi recalled the words of Benedict XVI, in his Jan. 7 speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. The Pope called for the "adoption of suitable measures for […] dealing with the humanitarian problems caused by cluster munitions."

In a report issued to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a "binding instrument that prohibits the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians."

Reuters reported that a senior U.S. official said earlier this month that cluster bombs should not be considered bad as long as states involved in conflicts use them responsibly.

He added that while the U.S. government is opposed to banning the weapon, Washington has plans to create a "quick reaction force" to defuse cluster bombs and other explosives that could threaten the safety of civilians.

Cluster munitions are weapons that include cargo containers and so-called submunitions.

The cargo containers are fired, launched and dropped by aircraft or land-based artillery. The containers open over a target area and disperse large numbers of the submunitions that are designed to explode when they hit a target.

Submunitions are classified as either bomblets, grenades or mines, and can be powerful enough to destroy armored vehicles.

The vast majority of cluster munitions contain hundreds of submunitions that are unguided and that cover 1 square kilometer (0.4 square mile) with explosions and shrapnel.

It is said that more than 70 countries have a stockpile of these bombs. Statistics show that up to 30% fail to explode, threatening passers-by for many years.