New Yorker Mark Garlasco knew why he was in Dublin, Ireland representing Human Rights Watch. “I have seen cluster munitions used across the world,” he told Al Jazeera. “These are the types of weapons that should never be used. There is no way to use these weapons in a legal manner.”

Representatives from 100 nations were on hand for a meeting called by the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), slated to run from May 19 until May 30. Organizers expected the gathering to arrive at a definitive treaty banning the weapons, building upon a draft treaty devised at conferences in Lima, Peru and Wellington, New Zealand. They count on signing ceremonies taking place in Oslo on Dec. 2-3.

Negotiations initiated by Norway in February 2007 are unfolding outside the UN framework to avoid delays and vetoes. The process is modeled on the one leading up to the 1997 Ottawa Treaty signed now by 158 nations agreeing to outlaw anti-personnel landmines.

CMC activists say the use of cluster bombs delivering hundreds of bomblets over wide areas threatens civilians, not just military targets. Many remain unexploded, posing prolonged risks for civilians. Cluster bombs became the leading cause of casualties in Kosovo in 1999 and in Iraq in 2003. They have wounded or killed over 200 people in Lebanon since the end of Israeli-Hezbollah fighting in 2006.

Negotiators in Dublin are operating under rules requiring two-thirds majority approval of proposals to meld the present draft treaty with any alternative versions or to insert new proposals. Discussion so far has centered on technical considerations relating to definitions, storage, stockpile destruction and victim assistance.

Principal producers and stockpilers of cluster bombs — China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Russia and the United States — have stayed away. Other nations are pressing for exemptions having to do with categories of bombs and extended time allowances for dismantling arsenals and actually using cluster bombs. The majority of nations in attendance seek a total ban on cluster bomb use, production, transfer and stockpiling.

The gathering took encouragement from the addition of Great Britain to the ranks of abolitionist nations, announced May 21 by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The day before the conference opened, Pope Benedict XVI called for eradication.

Protesters outside the U.S. embassy in Dublin on May 23 demanded that Washington hold off on pressuring other nations and impeding progress toward a ban. The Bush administration has threatened to bow out of peacekeeping and disaster relief operations on grounds that the treaty would “criminalize” military forces of dissenting nations at war with troops of treaty supporters.

Joining the demonstrators, U.S. Nobel Peace prize winner Jody Williams told Reuters, “I hate to see countries like Canada for example, the UK, France, Germany, Australia, who were leaders in the movement to ban landmines, doing the dirty work of the U.S.” She rejected the idea that UN-backed peacekeeping operations would be hurt by eradication of cluster bombs.
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