The Convention on Cluster Munitions

Following its adoption by 107 states in Dublin on 30 May 2008, the Convention entered into force on 1 August 2010, six months after its ratification by the 30th state. As of October 2012, the number of states that have ratified the Convention has risen to 77, and will continue to grow, as several countries have indicated that they are about to commence or conclude their ratification process.

War and conflict always hit the civilian population the hardest. Certain types of weapons have particularly severe effects on the civilian population, both during and after hostilities. This is the case for landmines and cluster munitions. In 1997, the world came together in a ban against anti-personnel mines. The Mine Ban Convention has grown to encompass 160 states in 2012. The Convention was the result of a focused, open and time-limited diplomatic process, where the efforts of humanitarian organisations and affected countries were decisive. The success of this process was an important source of inspiration when the initiative for a ban against cluster munitions was launched in 2006. Together, these conventions illustrate that new approaches to international cooperation can deliver tangible results quickly.

Unacceptable consequences for civilians

It is believed that 28 countries and territories are affected by cluster munitions. That is to say that the civilian population in these areas are at risk from unstable, unexploded ordinances left behind after wars and military exercises. Every year numerous civilians are killed or seriously injured by these remnants of war, in many cases several decades after the war has ended. In the areas most heavily contaminated by cluster munitions, arable land cannot be used without considerable risk to life and limb, and refugees cannot return to their homes. This creates serious humanitarian and developmental problems, not least because those countries most heavily affected often face grave economic and social challenges as well.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits all use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions for those states that have ratified it. Affected countries are obliged to clear contaminated land as soon as possible, at the latest within 10 years (extensions may be granted). The States Parties are also obliged to help other countries, for instance with clearing contaminated land and by providing assistance to victims. States in possession of cluster munitions are obliged to separate them from other weapons intended for operational use, and to destroy them as soon as possible, at the latest within eight years. Norway destroyed its last stockpile of cluster munitions on 16 July 2010.

A comprehensive ban

The definition of cluster munitions under the Convention covers all varieties known today. It is still legal to use munitions that have more than one explosive submunition, but these must meet all of the following criteria:

  • They must consist of less than ten submunitions that each weighs more than four kilos.
  • Each submunition must be designed to detect and engage a single target object, and be equipped with an electronic self-destruction mechanism and an electronic self-deactivating feature.
  • The use of such munitions must not cause unacceptable humanitarian consequences such as those that spurred the development of the Convention.

Following its adoption by 107 states in Dublin on 30 May 2008, the Convention entered into force on 1 August 2010, six months after its ratification by the 30th state. As of October 2012, the number of states that have ratified the Convention has risen to 77, and will continue to grow, as several countries have indicated that they are about to commence or conclude their ratification process.

From victim to agent for change  

The efforts of affected countries have been crucial in bringing about a ban on cluster munitions. In addition to Lebanon, which recently completed its term as president for the Convention, Lao PDR has been a prominent advocate against these weapons. Lao PDR is the country most severely affected by cluster munitions in the world. Tens of millions of unexploded bomblets are estimated to lie in Laotian forests and villages. Previous assessments indicated that efforts to clear the country could take several hundred years. In recent years, however, Lao PDR has made impressive progress, which suggests that the problem may be solved much sooner than expected. Large areas have already been cleared, and further clearance efforts have been integrated into the country’s socio-economic development strategy. Lao PDR’s advocacy has carried considerable moral weight, and it has been a key supporter of the Convention. Lao PDR was host and president of the first Meeting of States Parties in November 2010, and the global action plan on cluster munitions is named after its capital, Vientiane.

What is Norway doing?

The Norwegian authorities played a central role in the process that led to the adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Norway has since been an active supporter of the Convention, for example by fulfilling its stockpile destruction obligations before the Convention entered into force, and by increasing its assistance to countries affected by cluster munitions. Every year Norway, spends more than NOK 300 million (approximately USD 50 million) on various activities associated with humanitarian disarmament. A substantial proportion of this funding is used to support the implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, in particular initiatives on clearance, victim assistance and stockpile destruction.

In its work on cluster munitions, the Norwegian authorities cooperate with a broad group of stakeholders, including various international and humanitarian organisations. Norwegian People’s Aid is a key partner. This Norwegian NGO has built up extensive experience of issues related to clearance and stockpile destruction from its many decades of work in this field.