Cluster Munitions Divestment

Has divestment helped to eliminate other types of inherently inhumane weapons?

Roos Boer – a policy adviser at the Dutch peace organization IKV Pax Christi and co-author of the first global report on cluster bomb investments – describes worldwide efforts to pressure banks and governments to divest from these large canister bombs, which disperse multiple smaller explosives.

Interview

ICAN: What humanitarian harm do cluster munitions cause?

Roos Boer (RB): Used in more than 30 countries, cluster bombs have killed and injured tens of thousands of civilians and devastated the livelihoods of countless more. Over 380 million “bomblets” were used in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in the 1970s. Many did not explode on impact and, functioning as de-facto landmines, are still killing people today.

ICAN: Is it illegal to manufacture and use cluster munitions?

RB: Yes. The Convention on Cluster Munitions opened for signature in December 2008 and entered into force in August 2010. This treaty categorically bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions. It came about as a result of strong cooperation between governments and civil society groups belonging to the Cluster Munition Coalition. Today over 110 nations have joined.

ICAN: How have you promoted divestment ?

RB: In October 2009, IKV Pax Christi and Netwerk Vlaanderen – both members of the Cluster Munition Coalition – published a report on divestment titled Worldwide Investment in Cluster Munitions: A Shared Responsibility. Divestment from cluster munitions had been on the agenda for years but this was the first time worldwide research was published. The research focused on financial institutions that invested in cluster munition producers, but also highlighted good examples of financial institutions that had taken measures to prevent involvement with these companies.

ICAN: What about the investment policies of governments?

RB: Besides our focus on financial institutions, we also included a chapter on government practice on banning investments. The Convention on Cluster Munitions provided a solid base to do so. Although the treaty does not explicitly mention investments in cluster munition producers, it bans “assistance” in the production of cluster munitions. Over the years, more and more governments have stated that, in their understanding, investments should be seen as falling under this prohibition.

ICAN: What campaigning have you done around the report?

RB: On the day that we released the report, the Cluster Munition Coalition launched the global “Stop Explosive Investments” campaign. The combination of the research publication and worldwide engagement from campaigners has proven to be a strong force for change. On our first global day of action to stop explosive investments, campaigners from around 20 countries organized press briefings and letter sending actions.

Media coverage has been strong. Campaigners have engaged with financial institutions to achieve policy changes, have targeted banks with public actions and have created spin-off reports about investments in their respective countries.

ICAN: What effect has the report had?

RB: Many financial institutions have introduced new policies or strengthened existing ones to exclude investments in cluster munition producers from their portfolios. A number of governments that are parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions have also either introduced legislation to ban these investments or issued interpretive statements that the convention includes a prohibition on investments. IKV Pax Christi and Netwerk Vlaanderen have issued updates of the report in 2010 and 2011, and will do so again in 2012

For more information, visit www.stopexplosiveinvestments.org. Photo by DanChurchAid of Abdullah Yaqoob, who was injured in a British cluster bomb strike on Basra, Iraq, in 2003.

written by

Australian director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
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