AKRON, Pa. – Longtime peace advocate Titus Peachey said he is amazed and pleased that 111 countries formally agreed to adopt a ban on cluster bombs at a recent international conference that he attended in Dublin, Ireland.
Peachey, director of peace education for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S., said that the ban is a great step toward ending the use of a weapon that kills civilians in former war zones.
"After working at this for 28 years, to actually be at a place where governments are ready to ban these things is really amazing," Peachey said.
However, many nations that use cluster bombs did not agree to the ban, including the United States, Russia, China and Israel, Peachey said. He adds that the United States did not send a representative to the conference and reportedly lobbied behind the scenes against the treaty. Canada agreed to the ban.
Cluster bombs are aerial weapons that release up to several hundred submunitions, or "bombies," over a wide area. Peachey and other advocates have long called for a ban on cluster bombs because they kill indiscriminately. In many cases, the bombies fail to explode on impact and are accidentally detonated by civilians years later.
Titus Peachey and his wife Linda Gehman Peachey started raising awareness about cluster bombs when they served as MCC workers in Laos in the early 1980s. The U.S. military dropped an estimated 260 million bombies on Laos during the Vietnam War, and a significant portion did not detonate on impact, Peachey said.
In the decades since they were dropped, the unexploded bombies have continued to kill and maim many people in rural Laos, Peachey said. When the Peacheys returned to the United States, they brought back the broken head of a garden hoe – a simple tool that had detonated a bombie in the soil, killing a mother of 11 children.
"I always felt at that time that we had a very special responsibility to do something about this because we are U.S. citizens and, as Mennonites, we are committed to Christ's way of peace and nonviolence," Peachey said.
Peachey and Virgil Wiebe, an international law consultant for MCC, attended a series of international conferences on banning cluster bombs and other explosive remnants of war. In 2003, MCC helped found the Cluster Munitions Coalition, an international partnership of humanitarian organizations that has played a key role in advocating for the ban, Peachey said.
In 2007, MCC helped a Lebanese optician, Raed Mokaled, visit the United States to tell the story of his 5-year-old son Ahmad, who was killed by a cluster bomb submunition in 1999.
Mokaled was one of many people who traveled to the Dublin conference to share their tragic experiences with cluster bombs. Others came from countries including Iraq, Serbia, Tajikistan, Cambodia and Vietnam.
"We got a strong treaty, and it's a big step," Mokaled said at the conclusion of the conference. "My son – he rests now in his grave because we got a treaty."
Tim Shenk is a writer for Mennonite Central Committee.