The UK is the world's third largest user of lethal cluster bombs over the last ten years .
In February 2007 the UK joined 46 other nations in calling for a worldwide ban on cluster bombs. This initiative, called the Oslo process, is expected to lead to a treaty banning cluster bombs next year. Cluster bomblets are notoriously unreliable and many fail to explode on impact, remaining a lethal hazard to civilians months after the initial attack. Even in test conditions, around 6% of these bombs malfunction , cluster bomb reliability rates are consistently found to be higher in combat conditions than in tests. In December last year Hillary Benn, the then Secretary of State for International Development, said that cluster munitions 'represent a threat to aid-workers, peace-keepers, medical services, internally-displaced persons' after the cessation of hostilities.
As recently as 23 November 2006, the government listed the CRV-7 as a cluster munition.
But on 16 July this year, just months after it said it would back a worldwide cluster bomb ban, the Government said the CRV-7 was no longer a cluster bomb.
The move would mean that the Hydra CRV-7 rocket system, which can deliver 171 'M73' bomblets from a helicopter-mounted rocket pod, would remain part of British arsenals. Britain also insists on keeping its artillery delivered M85 cluster bomblets because they are supposed to self-destruct if they do not explode on impact. Last year in Lebanon, these same weapons failed in large numbers, killing and injuring civilians. A recent Foreign Affairs Select Committee report estimated a failure rate of up to 10%, a figure far in excess of government claims.
Anna MacDonald, Head of Arms Control for Oxfam said:
'Current UK policy on cluster bombs makes no sense. They say they want an international treaty - but they also want to keep using cluster bombs well known to kill and injure civilians.'