Convention on Cluster Munitions sets new international humanitarian law standard

Thomas Nash [Coordinator, Cluster Munition Coalition]: "Future generations will remember 2010 as the year cluster bombs became illegal around the world. Following its swift ratification by 30 states, the Convention on Cluster Munitions - the most significant disarmament and humanitarian treaty in more than a decade - enters into force on August 1, establishing a new international legal standard for civilian protection.


A cluster munition (or cluster bomb) is a weapon containing multiple - often hundreds - of small explosive submunitions or bomblets. Air-dropped or ground-launched, they cause two major humanitarian problems and risks to civilians. First, their widespread dispersal means they threaten military targets and civilians alike, so the humanitarian impact can be extreme, especially when the weapon is used in or near populated areas, as it frequently has been. Many submunitions fail to detonate on impact and become de facto antipersonnel mines, killing and maiming people long after the conflict has ended. These duds can be more lethal than antipersonnel mines; incidents involving submunition duds are more likely to cause death than injury.

The CCM came about through a close partnership between pro-ban governments, civil society led by the Cluster Munition Coalition, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and UN agencies. The leadership of affected states and individual cluster bomb survivors was crucial to its success. The rationale for establishing the new norm is quite simple: international humanitarian law inadequately addressed the use of cluster munitions because it was too difficult to apply and it was too open to interpretation. Just as importantly, only a precise and clear rule prohibiting cluster munitions can send the message to state parties and states not party alike that the use of such weapons is not morally acceptable.

Since it opened for signature in Oslo in December 2008, the CCM has been signed by 104 states and ratified by 30.

As only a small percentage of existing cluster munition stockpiles has been deployed in armed conflict, the convention can be seen as preventive, in particular in comparison with the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which was negotiated during the height of the landmine crisis. The convention protects civilians by prohibiting cluster munition production and requiring the destruction of remaining stockpiles. But it also advances the right of cluster bomb survivors to be included in society and to lead dignified lives, by setting clear obligations for states to provide assistance to victims and affected communities.

The implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty, which is in many respects a forebear to the CCM, has shown that even states not party have felt increasingly pressured to abandon use of a prohibited weapon due to the stigma surrounding its use. Experience has shown, that even before its entry into force, the CCM has already had a similar stigmatizing effect, causing states to shy away from using cluster bombs. The two most recent instances where cluster bombs are known to have been used in armed conflict - by the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon in 2006 and by both Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia in 2008 - met with international condemnation. The United States, another non-signatory, imposed an export ban on 99 percent of its stockpile of cluster munitions in March 2009 and plans to stop using the overwhelming majority of its cluster munitions from 2018

After the Convention on Cluster Munitions enters into force, the next milestone will be the First Meeting of States Parties, which will be held in Lao PDR in late 2010. As a result of US bombing more than 30 years ago, Lao PDR is the country most heavily contaminated by cluster munitions.

This year will be the best opportunity for additional states to join the CCM - to get in on the ground floor of this new international standard - and begin to implement the treaty's provisions to rid the world of cluster bombs, prevent harm to civilians and assist all those affected to realize their fundamental rights."

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