Berlin Conference on the Destruction of Stockpiled Cluster Munitions, Opening Speech by Minister of State Gernot Erler, 25. Juni 2009
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Mr. State Secretary Eide,
My Colleague from the German Federal Parliament,
Representatives from civil society and companies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to welcome you all today here in Berlin, as representatives of the signatories of the Convention on Cluster Munitions to the Conference on the Destruction of Stockpiled Cluster Munitions. I am very happy that so many of you set value on this important issue and followed the invitation of our Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
I do especially and cordially welcome the Norwegian State Secretary of Defence, Espen Barth Eide. He represents not only our cooperation partner in the organization of this conference, but first and foremost Norwayas the initiator of the Oslo-process that led to the conclusion of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in December 2008. That was by all means an ambitious and challenging task, which was successfully completed.
I am also particularly pleased to welcome my parliamentarian colleague Mr. Hans Raidel, Member of the German Federal Parliament, the Bundestag. His presence does not only stand for the central efforts of the German parliament to support the Convention internally, but it also underlines the important role of all involved parliaments worldwide in inducing their governments to unconditionally renounce cluster munitions.
Other key actors that I would like to mention here are the United Nations and its relevant organizations as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as the guardian of International Humanitarian Law. Furthermore, I should also like to extend a warm welcome to the delegates of the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) and the representatives of our German NGOs who largely contributed to the success of the Convention with their firm commitment and extensive activism. The media also played an important role in the Osloprocess. Their reports, for example on the Middle East Conflict in 2006, led to a turning point in the debate on cluster munitions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
87 signatory states are present here today including nearly all signatory states with cluster munitions stockpiles. Together with delegates from various UN organisations and the ICRC as well as representatives from civil society and companies more than 270 participants have responded to our call to pave the way for a speedy and comprehensive destruction of cluster munitions stockpiles.
Disarmament and Arms Control are very important issues for Germany. For us, this includes of course weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but also conventional weapons that cause disproportionate harm or that have indiscriminate effects on the civilian population. This applies in particular to cluster munitions.
We see a new momentum developing in nuclear disarmament and commend our American Partners for their new approach. Let us hope and do our best that this momentum will also be extended to conventional disarmament.
Cluster munitions are amongst the most problematic and vicious types of ammunition used in contemporary warfare, because of the high numbers of submunitions and their high failure rates. They are imprecise weapons designed to strike a greater surface than many other conventional weapons by dispersing smaller but highly lethal explosive submunitions. Scattered on the surface, they constitute a high danger and impose a great risk for the civil population. The long term effects of their use are disastrous. 98 percent of the victims are reported to be civilians, whereas the majority of the incidents happens long after the armed conflict is already over, while people return to their homeland and try to carry out their normal, daily livelihood activities. Under these circumstances, sustainable post-conflict development in contaminated areas is condemned to fail. A prominent example for the problems caused by cluster munition is the conflict in the Near East in summer 2006. For instance, reports from Lebanonhave indicated failure rates of cluster munitions above 15%, leaving vast parts of land contaminated for years or decades after the end of the conflict.
During the period from 2006 to the end of 2008 we all witnessed fundamental developments in the positions of many governments in their positions on the military necessity and reliability of cluster munitions. The report "Banning Cluster Munitions", released last month, gives credit to this fact. In intense conferences and international negotiation rounds states pushed for and finally gained a strong treaty to ban cluster munitions.
In 2007 my government made a first contribution to the international process towards the abolition of these weapons by giving financial support to the report compiled by Handicap International with the title "Circle of Impact: The Fatal Footprint of Cluster Munitions on People and Communities". Before that, data concerning the use and impact of cluster munitions was hardly available at all. The highlighting of the humanitarian problems caused by the use of cluster bombs in this report has helped to convince large parts of the international community to join the movement to ban cluster munitions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, I have the pleasure to announce that Germanyhas finished its ratification process. The ratification instrument will be transmitted to the Secretary General of the United Nations as depositary of the Convention within the next days, placing Germanyamongst the first 15 ratifiers of the Convention. This very quick and smooth implementation is also due to the outstanding work of the Bundestag, which strongly supported our position in the effort to ban cluster munitions, over the whole period of the process. I would like to express my appreciation for this important contribution. For the entry into force of the Convention, 30 ratifications are needed and we strongly hope that this number will be completed very soon. Of course, we do also encourage all states that are not yet signatories to the Convention to join in very soon. The more states adhere to the convention the less danger there will be that cluster munitions pose to civilian populations.
As we all know, the Convention does not only contain the passive provision to refrain from the use of cluster munitions. In Art. 3, it obliges the States Parties, in a timeframe of eight years from the entry into force of the Convention for the respective State Party, to "destroy or ensure destruction of all cluster munitions". Previous experiences have shown that the timely implementation of such provisions is of utmost importance, and not always an easy task. And the destruction of cluster munitions is, technically, a much more complex challenge than the destruction of mines. A late start, due to the complexity and duration of the necessary procedures, could thus be a factor of instability for the whole instrument and could endanger the goals and objectives of the convention. That is why our ambition should be to destroy the stockpiled cluster munitions as fast as possible, being one of the important duties emerging from the Convention. My government thought this to be so important that we took the initiative to organize this conference even before the convention will enter into force. This move constitutes a real precedent in international practice. But in this case it seems to me justified, and I am glad that you responded to our invitation so numerously.
As long as the Convention on Cluster Munitions has not yet reached truly universal status, our objective must also be to contain the diffusion of cluster bombs. To prevent the proliferation of these weapon systems is therefore of great importance for Germany. Hence, the destruction of cluster munitions stockpiles is not a goal in itself, but an important means and a visible step to avoid its further spread and use in the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since Germany began the destruction of this type of ammunition already in 2001, we have gained quite some experience in this field. The German Government, at the request of the Federal Parliament, already made up a detailed national destruction plan with deadlines, numbers and budgets. It will be presented in this afternoons session.
With the idea to share some of our experiences we decided to set up this conference with the participation of the States Signatories to the Convention, International and Non-Governmental Organizations, but also and especially with representatives from relevant companies that actually engage in the destruction of such weaponry. Those firms will provide important insights from the perspective of the financial and technical branches.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The danger that cluster munitions pose to civilian populations can only be eliminated if the ban on these munitions is comprehensive. I can assure you of Germany's continuous support to universalize the Convention on Cluster Munitions. We will make use of all suitable opportunities to speak out in favour of this Convention calling in particular on the governments of States which have not yet acceded to it.
In this context, let me warmly welcome the Deputy Foreign Minister of Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR). We appreciate the readiness of Lao PDR to host the first Conference of the States Parties of the Convention of Cluster Munitions, hopefully already next year. Minister Sangsomsak will give us a short preview on the next steps towards the first State Conference at tomorrow's session. Germanylike Norwayand a number of other states as well as the Cluster Munition Coalition stands ready to support Lao PDR in this endeavour.
Furthermore, Germanywill make two million Euro available this year specifically for the removal of cluster munitions in various countries and for victim assistance programmes.
With these short introductory remarks let me wish us a fruitful conference with important insights and information regarding the complex tasks. Apart from that, I hope that you will all enjoy your stay in Berlin, and that the conference lives up to your expectations.