Cluster munitions treaty in danger

The Cluster Munition Monitor 2011 was released Tuesday in Geneva.

This report provides an annual review of the Convention on Cluster Munitions that bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster bombs throughout the world. Report findings demonstrated that the treaty has had a significant positive humanitarian impact, most notably in terms of decontamination of impacted communities and the destruction of stockpiles. The ongoing success of the Convention on Cluster Munitions is directly threatened by States currently meeting in Geneva this week for the Fourth Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Led by the United States, certain countries seek to adopt a weaker standard on cluster munitions that would allow for continued harm to civilians by these indiscriminate weapons.

Released Tuesday in Geneva, the annual Cluster Munition Monitor 2011 paints a very positive picture of the first year of implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which came into force in August 2010. Since then, the Convention has become the international standard for the ban on cluster bombs. To date the Oslo Treaty counts 108 signatory States and 66 State Parties.

cluster munition is an indiscriminate weapon designed to break open in mid-air, release between a dozen and a few hundred sub-munitions each the size of a soda can and cover an area that can be as large as several football fields. When the sub-munitions explode, they fire hundreds of fragments of metal that travel at the speed of a bullet. Anyone within the area, military or civilian, is very likely to be killed or seriously injured.

“By destroying stockpiles, carrying out clearance operations and adopting new laws, the State Parties have made considerable efforts to adhere to this treaty,” said Paul Vermeulen, Advocacy and International Relations Manager for Handicap International. “After just one year in force, the progress made is astounding,” Vermeulen added.

In 2010:

•   The State Parties destroyed almost 600,000 cluster bombs containing more than 64.5 million cluster munitions.

•   31 countries or territories are still contaminated by cluster munitions, but more than half are already committed to abolishing these weapons by becoming State Parties to the treaty, including Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lebanon, which is one of the most contaminated countries in the world.

•   Almost 60,000 unexploded cluster munitions have been destroyed in decontamination operations throughout the world and 18 million square meters have been cleared of mines.

There are, however, two dark clouds looming over this otherwise glowing picture. Two non-State Parties have used cluster munitions in 2011: Libya (in Misrata in April) and Thailand (in Cambodia in February). Furthermore, there have been new cases of victims of cluster munitions recorded this year. In total, at least 16,921 cluster munitions victims have been identified worldwide. Many victims, however, are not recorded, and the actual total is estimated to be between 20,000 and 54,000 people. The recent use of these weapons, which continue to claim new victims, shows that the fight must continue to ensure that the Treaty becomes a universal standard, adopted by all States. It is the only means by which these weapons can be eradicated.

The Cluster Munition Monitor 2011 is being presented as part of the Fourth CCW review conference, during which certain States are looking to negotiate a new protocol on cluster munitions. Discussions around the CCW bring to the negotiating table several nations that have used cluster munitions and have not committed to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, including Israel, Russia and the United States.

Handicap International considers the draft text as a weak option, which will authorize cluster bombs produced after 1980. If this text is adopted, these barbaric weapons will once again be seen as legitimate by certain States.

“Adopting this protocol would constitute a huge step backwards, in contradiction with the standard established by the Convention,” said Vermeulen, adding, “in international humanitarian law a setback of this significance is unprecedented. “States using cluster bombs are hiding behind this text to legitimize their use of these weapons, 98percent of whose recorded victims are civilians."

The full Cluster Munition Monitor 2011 is available online: