GENEVA -- Cluster bombs, artillery shells and missiles are still stockpiled in 69 nations a year after they were banned by a new international law, a London-based coalition of 200 activist groups said Wednesday.
The London-based Cluster Munition Coalition's tally of these destructive explosive weapons came as diplomats gathered in Geneva to debate plans for phasing them out.
The weapons pose a particular risk to civilians because they indiscriminately scatter smaller "bomblets," some as small as flashlight batteries, packed tightly into hollowed out bombs, artillery shells or missiles that can be dropped from planes or launched from the ground.
Some 61 nations so far have adopted the law, which took effect in Aug. 2010. The United States, however, has rejected the call, insisting the bombs are a valid weapon of war when used properly. China, Russia, India and Pakistan also reject the law.
A single container targeting airfields or tanks typically scatters hundreds of the mini-explosives over an area the size of a football field. The U.S. has used the weapon in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They most recently were used in April in Libya, when forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi fired MAT-120 mortar projectiles containing submunitions into the opposition-held city of Misrata, the coalition said in its annual report Wednesday.
It said Spain in June confirmed providing Libya with 1,055 cluster munitions in 2006 and 2008, before Spain joined the convention banning them.
The campaign against the weapons picked up steam after Israel's monthlong war against Hezbollah in 2006, when it scattered up to 4 million of the munitions across Lebanon.
The United States, meanwhile, is pushing for a new cluster arms agreement. U.S. diplomat Phillip Spector told officials at the opening of talks Monday in Geneva that the new agreement for destroying cluster munitions produced before 1980 would include up to 90 percent of the world's stockpiles -- and a third of the U.S. stash of more than 6 million such weapons.
He said this "offers the only chance of bringing the world's major cluster munitions users and producers ... into a legally binding set of prohibitions and regulations."
But Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch said the new agreement sought by the Obama administration amounted to backsliding.
"We find this outrageous," he told reporters.
The United States has already promised by the end of 2018 it would no longer use cluster munitions that result in more than 1 percent unexploded ordnance. Usually 10 to 15 percent -- but in some cases up to 80 percent -- of the devices fail to explode immediately.
The coalition says 12 nations have destroyed part of their stockpiles, leaving at least 610,263 cluster bombs. Casualties involving their use have been reported in 29 countries.
Goose said at nearly 17,000 deaths or injuries from cluster bombs have been confirmed globally through 2010. But because of underreporting, he said, the actual casualty figure is estimated at between 20,000 and 54,000.