Proposed protocol threatens existing global ban on cluster bombs, UN officials warn

23 November 2011

The top United Nations humanitarian, development and human rights officials today called on countries meeting in Geneva not to adopt a protocol currently under debate that weakens the existing global ban on cluster bombs.

“A comprehensive ban is the only way to save lives – and protect humanitarian and development operations – from the indiscriminate and lasting effects of cluster munitions,” said a statement issued on behalf of UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

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.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which was adopted in 2008 and came into force in 2010, provides a comprehensive ban on the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. To date, 111 States have signed the convention, and 66 have ratified it.

“A comprehensive ban is the only way to spare civilians from the unacceptable harm posed by cluster munitions now and in the future,” said the three officials. “This ban exists already.”

They voiced extreme concern at the ongoing efforts of States, currently meeting in Geneva, to agree a new treaty on cluster munitions in the form of a new protocol to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

“The protocol that is being discussed will lower the standard set by the CCM and fail to address the well-documented humanitarian and development threats posed by cluster munitions,” they stated.

“If adopted, it will allow the indefinite use of cluster munitions produced after 1 January 1980 that meet certain technical requirements and that are prohibited by the CCM because of the unacceptable harm they pose to civilians.”

The adoption of this protocol would set “a disturbing precedent” in international humanitarian law, creating – for the first time – a new global treaty that is actually weaker than existing international humanitarian law, they added.

“We therefore urge those States that have not yet joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions to do so now! And for all States to refuse to adopt a protocol that weakens the existing ban on a highly dangerous weapon.”

 

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