United Nations officials have expressed their delight at Sunday’s entry into force of the international convention banning the manufacture, use and stockpiling of cluster munitions, calling it a “major advance for the global disarmament and humanitarian agendas.”
Billions of these weapons – which are considered particularly dangerous, despite their lack of precision – are believed to exist around the world and many have been used in recent conflicts, killing or maiming countless civilians.
Thirty ratifications were needed to make the pact, which prohibits explosive remnants of war known either as cluster munitions or unexploded ordnance (UXO), a part of international law. That milestone was reached in February when Burkina Faso and Moldova both submitted their instruments of ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions at UN Headquarters in New York.
The convention, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement on Friday, “will help us to counter the widespread insecurity and suffering caused by these terrible weapons, particularly among civilians and children.”
He is particularly pleased, the statement continued, that the pact will enter into force on 1 August, just over two years after it was adopted by 107 States in Dublin, Ireland.
“This highlights not only the world’s collective revulsion at these abhorrent weapons, but also the power of collaboration among governments, civil society and the United Nations to change attitudes and policies on a threat faced by all mankind,” the Secretary-General emphasized.
The convention – negotiated by States that represent past and current producers, stockpilers and victims of cluster munitions – establishes important commitments regarding assistance to victims, clearance of contaminated areas and destruction of stockpiles.
To date, 37 countries have ratified the pact, which also has 107 signatures.
First used in the Second World War, cluster munitions contain dozens of smaller explosives designed to disperse over an area the size of several football fields, but often fail to detonate upon impact, creating large de facto minefields.
The failure rate makes these weapons particularly dangerous for civilians, who continue to be maimed or killed for years after conflicts end. Some 98 per cent of victims are civilians and cluster bombs have claimed over 10,000 civilian lives, 40 per cent of whom are children.
Recovery from conflict is also hampered because the munitions place roads and lands off-limits to farmers and aid workers.
The pact represents “a major advance for the global disarmament and humanitarian agendas,” Mr. Ban noted in his statement, a theme echoed by Daniël Prins, chief of the conventional arms branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA).
“This is a great step forward – here we have a treaty at the nexus of disarmament and humanitarian efforts,” Mr. Prins said in an interview with the UN News Centre.
He noted that the convention is not merely symbolic, but contains many practical measures, such as requiring States to provide assistance to victims, engage in clearance operations and conduct awareness campaigns so that children do not inadvertently set off explosions.
The first meeting of States parties to the convention will be held this November in Laos, which Mr. Ban said is a country “that has suffered tremendously from the impact of cluster munitions.”
Clearance operations are still ongoing in the South-East Asian nation more than 30 years after conflict left 75 million unexploded cluster bomblets across the country.
Mr. Ban called on all Member States to take part in the November meeting to express their support for the convention, while also urging those nations which have yet to accede to the pact “to do so without delay.”
Cluster munitions have been used in conflicts around the world in recent years, including in the Middle East, South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, the Horn of Africa and Central Africa.
The UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has been coordinating the removal of cluster munitions in many countries, including Cambodia, Chad, Laos, Lebanon, Tajikistan and Zambia.
Max Kerley, the Director of UNMAS, said he hoped the convention will now gather the kind of support enjoyed by the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty and receive more ratifications in the months ahead.