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Humanitarian group calls on Ottawa to push allies away from banned cluster weapons

The Canadian branch of an international humanitarian organization is calling on Ottawa to step up pressure on its allies to halt the distribution and use of cluster munitions.

Humanity and Inclusion (HI), an independent aid group working in conflict zones around the globe, is responding to a new report by a monitoring agency which says that more people were killed or injured by the banned weapons in 2022 than in any other year since reporting began in 2010.

The annual assessment by Cluster Munition Monitor, released Tuesday, said that 1,172 people were killed or wounded by cluster bombs in 2022, most of them in Ukraine.

Seven other countries recorded the use of the weapons: Azerbaijan, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Myanmar, Syria and Yemen.

“No situation justifies the use of such weapons,” said Anne Delorme, executive director of Humanity and Inclusion Canada.

“Canada has always been a world leader in banning or limiting the use of explosive weapons. The signing of the Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel mines is a perfect example of Canadian leadership. We hope that our government will continue to use diplomacy to encourage the United States and other countries that have not yet ratified the convention to do so.”

The release of the report comes one week ahead of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (Oslo Convention), which will be held between Sept. 11 and Sept. 14 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Humanity and Inclusion Canada said the Canadian government has a special responsibility to condemn the use of the weapons and “to hold the countries responsible for their use accountable.”

Cluster munitions were banned under a treaty ratified almost 13 years ago. A total of 123 states, including Canada, have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The United States, Russia and Ukraine did not sign the treaty.

A U.S. decision earlier this summer to supply Ukraine with cluster bombs became a point of debate at the recent NATO summit, where Canada — a staunch backer of the treaty banning the munitions — was put in the awkward position of trying to convince President Volodymyr Zelenskyy not to use the weapons.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked a fine line publicly, refusing to call out Ukraine but saying that Canada would “continue to stand very strongly that [cluster munitions] should not be used.”

A close up image of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shaking hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

According to several sources, Trudeau privately counselled Zelenskyy during the mid-July summit against the use of such weapons — which are widely condemned for the way they indiscriminately kill and wound civilians.

Ukraine has pledged that the munitions will be used only to dislodge significant concentrations of Russian troops from prepared defences as its forces press a counteroffensive in the eastern and southern regions of the country. U.S. officials were quoted saying in July that the ammunition was being used “effectively.”

Countries that have signed the treaty are obliged to discourage the use of cluster munitions, which spread small bomblets over large areas after being dropped from the air or fired from artillery.

Nations under the Convention on Cluster Munitions are required to work against their use, up to and “including the imposition of penal sanctions to prevent and suppress any activity prohibited” under the treaty.

That means Canada and its allies could be required to sanction Ukraine to discourage further use of cluster munitions.

The Canadian government firmly condemned Russia’s use of the munitions shortly after it commenced its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

A child missing their right hand leans over a school workbook.
Doaa al-Hassan, 10 years old, who lost her hand to a cluster bomb in 2022, studies at a camp near the town of Ain Sheeb, northern Idlib province, Syria, on July 18, 2023. (Omar Albam/The Associated Press)

During the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said the U.S. decision to supply cluster bombs would not affect Canadian aid to Ukraine.

The opposition New Democrats, meanwhile, insist Canada must abide by its responsibilities under the treaty.

“We support Ukraine in every way we can — but not with illegal, banned weapons,” NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson said in July in a post on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.

“Canada has an obligation under the Cluster Munition Convention to actively discourage use. This is the moment to do so.”

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