A landmark treaty banning cluster bombs became binding international law Sunday.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits signatory countries from using, producing or transferring the weapons, which scatter hundreds of small bomblets over a wide area.
The scattered ordnance can remain armed for years and often wounds civilians long after conflicts end.
The treaty has been signed by 107 nations, and 37 of those have ratified the document, including Britain, France, Germany and Japan.
However, major cluster bomb-producing nations, including China, the United States, Israel and Russia do not support the accord, arguing the munitions have legitimate military uses.
Still, aid groups say the treaty is an important step in stopping a weapon they say has caused tremendous suffering to civilians.
The treaty requires signatory nations to destroy stockpiled cluster munitions within eight years and to clear contaminated areas within a decade.
Pope Benedict, speaking Sunday outside Rome, hailed the treaty, calling it an "encouraging sign" that nations can make progress toward disarmament and improved human rights.
Article by VOA News