Today is the first day of an international ban on the manufacture, sale and use of Cluster Bombs.

Adopted in Dublin on May 30, 2008 and opened for signature in Oslo in December 2008, the Convention bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions and calls for the destruction of stockpiles within eight years, clearance of cluster munition-contaminated land within 10 years, and assistance to cluster munition survivors and affected communities. On August 1, all of the Convention’s provisions become fully and legally binding for states that have joined.

An expression of “the growing international revulsion toward cluster munitions and the civilian harm they cause,” the campaign

… gained momentum after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The UN estimates that Israel dropped 4m bomblets onto southern Lebanon during the last three days of the war, when a ceasefire had already been agreed.

While world leaders and citizens celebrated the launch of this new protection for civilians in conflict areas, several major producers of cluster bombs did not sign the treaty, including the United States.

Obama had promised a full review of American use of these weapons but has not so far done so. A ban on exports of some cluster bombs was signed by Obama after congressional action in 2009 that

… states that cluster munitions can only be exported if they leave behind less than 1 percent of their submunitions as duds. Cluster submunitions often fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that act like landmines and pose danger to civilians. The legislation also requires the receiving country to agree that cluster munitions “will not be used where civilians are known to be present.” Only a very tiny fraction of the cluster munitions in the US arsenal meet the 1-percent standard.

Of course, such limitations on the use of cluster bombs supplied by the US have been broken before with little consequence. As Human Rights Watch noted at the time:

“The passage of this measure is yet another indication that the president should initiate a thorough review of US policy with respect to cluster munitions,” said [Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch]. “If it is unacceptable for foreign militaries to use these weapons, why would it be acceptable for the US military to use them?”

US policy on cluster munitions was last articulated in a three-page policy directive issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in July 2008. The directive described cluster munitions as “legitimate weapons with clear military utility.” Under the policy, the US will continue to use cluster munitions and, after 2018, will use only munitions with a tested failure rate of less than 1 percent.

Once more we see the Obama administration both ignoring earlier promises and falling further behind in the global human rights arena.

Instead, we learned today that Obama “seeks to expand arms exports by trimming approval process.”