human rights news & views

Investment in cluster bombs outlawed in Belgium

Advancing the global campaign against explosive remnants of war, Belgium has taken the unprecedented step of banning investment in companies that manufacture cluster bombs. Belgium banned the weapon itself a year ago.

Cluster bomb releasing submunitions (Cluster Munition Coalition)Cluster munitions spread ‘bomblets’ — hundreds or thousands at a time — over wide areas from 1 to 20 square kilometres. Unlike landmines, a cluster bomb explosion can kill everyone within 50 metres.

A high proportion do not explode on initial impact, however, endangering life and limb and interrupting agriculture and livelihoods for decades afterwards.

Cluster bombs have been used by Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Israel, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Sudan, the UK and USA.

The worst affected countries are Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iraq, Laos, Kosovo and Viet Nam. Many more countries possess these weapons and/or have been attacked with cluster munitions.

To take a recent example, the UN estimates that Israel dropped four million bomblets on southern Lebanon during last year’s war with Hezbollah, with some 40 per cent failing to explode on impact. Hezbollah returned fire with cluster munitions of Chinese origin from land-based artillery, demonstrating the spread of these weapons to non-state entities.

It is now a crime in Belgium for banks or financial groups to offer credit to, or own shares or bonds in, a given list of companies that make cluster bombs. Two Belgian banks had already stopped doing business with such firms prior to the legislation.

Meanwhile, six key Western manufacturers continue to receive financial backing — US$12 billion since 2004 — from banks in Australia, the US, Switzerland and the European Union.

The indiscriminate threat they pose to civilians makes cluster munitions a breach of Geneva and Hague law. However no treaty mentions them specifically. Last month, 46 countries agreed to work towards a legally-binding treaty banning cluster bombs, including France and the UK. Three nations at the Oslo meeting (Japan, Romania and Poland) did not commit to the treaty process. Big manufacturing countries such as the US, Russia, Israel and China did not attend.

Treaty negotiations are scheduled to conclude in 2008.


  1. brendan
    22 May 2007 | 9:43 pm

    I was appalled to recently read in the paper that my lifelong savings bank was one of three Australian local banks that invested in cluster bombs. It is definitely time to make a switch to the local credit union.


    The Australian government’s duplicity over this issue is also worth keeping an eye on – recent news reports indicate that at the same time the federal government is moving to sign conventions that ban cluster bombs, the defence force is interested in acquiring them and is, of course, currently involved in operations with allies are using cluster bombs extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan.


  2. 23 May 2007 | 8:41 am

    Thank you for your comment and the links. Please notify your bank of your reason for leaving.

  3. Taylor
    25 March 2008 | 8:19 am

    War is meant to be awful. I don’t see the problem with cluster bombs. On a personal note I think that they are an effective way of killing and otherwise damaging the enemy. Who are you to say we shouldn’t use cluster bombs?

  4. Ryland
    1 May 2008 | 12:03 pm

    Yes, but the affects of these devices after a the war is concluded is simply murder, at best negligible manslaughter. I’m all for the effective neutralization of enemy assets, but not the wholesale killing of civilians after the conflict.

    On a personal not, I find you detestable.

  5. 8 September 2008 | 7:05 am

    Ciekawa strona, bede ja odwiedzal czesciej, pozdro

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