Agencies accuse UK government of reclassifying cluster bomb in order to beat the weapon's ban

The UK, the world’s third largest user of lethal cluster bombs over the last ten years, has renamed one of its two remaining cluster munitions in an effort to beat an expected worldwide ban next year said humanitarian organisations Oxfam, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Landmine Action today.

The move would mean that the Hydra CRV-7 rocket system, which can deliver 171 “M73” bomblets from a helicopter-mounted rocket pod, would remain part of British arsenals.

As recently as 23 November 2006, the government listed the CRV-7 as a cluster munition. But on 16 July this year, just months after it said it would back a worldwide cluster bomb ban, the Government said the CRV-7 was no longer a cluster bomb.

“Ten years after it championed a treaty banning landmines the UK has a chance to do the same with cluster bombs – but instead it is spinning a cluster bomb con,” said Simon Conway, Director of Landmine Action. “This is a deeply cynical move. The UK Government needs to announce an immediate end to the use of these indiscriminate killers.”

US forces used the rocket-delivered M73 ‘bomblets’ in Iraq in 2003. Human Rights Watch reported contamination of unexploded M73 bomblets left behind after the strikes.

Cluster bomblets are notoriously unreliable and many fail to explode on impact, remaining a lethal hazard to civilians months after the initial attack. Even in test conditions, around 6% of these bombs malfunction, cluster bomb reliability rates are consistently found to be lower in combat conditions than in tests.

"A technical solution is doomed to ,” said the London Director of Human Rights Watch, Tom Porteous. “Human Rights Watch's investigations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon have all shown that cluster munitions, no matter how sophisticated, do not work as advertised, and instead get used in ways that violate international humanitarian law."

In February 2007 the UK joined 46 other nations in calling for a world wide ban on cluster bombs. This initiative, called the Oslo process, is expected to lead to a treaty banning cluster bombs next year.

But campaigners say the UK needs to get its own house in order first.

“Current UK policy on cluster bombs makes no sense. They say they want an international treaty - but they also want to keep using cluster bombs well known to kill and injure civilians,” said Anna MacDonald, Head of Arms Control for Oxfam.

Britain also insists on keeping its artillery delivered M85 cluster bomblets because they are supposed to self-destruct if they do not explode on impact. Last year in Lebanon, these same weapons failed in large numbers, killing and injuring civilians. A recent Foreign Affairs Select Committee report estimated a failure rate of up to 10%, a figure far in excess of government claims.

“Despite being the third biggest user of cluster bombs in the world over the last ten years, the Government hasn’t made any efforts to asses the harm these weapons cause to civilians. Ministers are prepared to stand in Parliament and claim that careful assessments have been done – but where is the evidence? Their policies simply aren’t based on reality,” said Oliver Sprague, Programme Director, Military, Security and Police for Amnesty International UK.

In July 2007 an opinion poll All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,115 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th - 18th July 2007. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). showed 82% of the British public are in favour of a cluster bomb ban. In December last year Hillary Benn, the then Secretary of State for International Development, said that cluster munitions “represent a threat to aid-workers, peace-keepers, medical services, internally-displaced persons” after the cessation of hostilities.

Landmine Action, Oxfam, Amnesty International UK, Saferworld and Human Rights Watch UK are calling on the UK Government to announce an immediate end to the use of all cluster munitions.

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