The Convention on Cluster Munitions came into force on 1 August 2010, marking a major step towards ridding the world of the cluster bomb submunitions which can kill and maim decades after being unleashed.
According to the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), comprising more than 350 NGOs working in 90 countries, the treaty is “the most significant international disarmament treaty since the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty banning antipersonnel landmines”.
According to CMC, the following countries have used cluster munitions: Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Georgia, Israel, Libya, Morocco, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, former Yugoslavia, Sudan, the UK and the USA.
Of these, the UK and France* have signed and ratified the convention, while Morocco, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Serbia and Sudan have either signed but not ratified it or shown interest in signing it. The following seven* countries are yet to take any action to join it: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Israel, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the USA.
“Campaigners around the world are celebrating a triumph of humanitarian values over a cruel and unjust weapon,” said CMC coordinator Thomas Nash.
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“Cluster munitions are dropped from the air or fired from the ground and designed to break open in mid-air, releasing the submunitions over an area that can be the size of several football fields,” said a CMC press release. “This means they cannot discriminate between civilians and soldiers. Many of the submunitions fail to explode on impact and remain a threat to lives and livelihoods for decades after a conflict.”
Mines Action Canada, a coalition of Canadian NGOs working to eliminate landmines and cluster bombs, said “cluster munitions also have a failure rate ranging from five to 30 percent. Those that do not explode on impact become explosive remnants of war.”
Most contaminated countries
Laos is the world’s worst affected country, according to CMC. Lao government statistics say more than 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped by US aircraft in Laos between 1964 and 1973. Up to 30 percent of them failed to detonate, leaving Laos with 80 million unexploded cluster munitions. The government says about 25 percent of Lao villages are contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO), most of which is in the form of unexploded cluster bomblets.
Vietnam is the world’s second most affected country, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor (the Monitor), an initiative providing research for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. The Vietnamese government, which says there were some 105,000 UXO casualties between 1975 and the end of 2007, has not signed or ratified the convention.
The Monitor says Iraq is the third most affected country but there is little data on the total area of contamination. It estimates that 1,730sqkm in 13 of Iraq’s 18 governorates are contaminated by UXO. “In the first Gulf War alone, US-led forces dropped 15 million submunitions with an unknown failure rate,” it said. Iraq has signed but not yet ratified the convention.
Cambodia and Nagorno-Karabakh are the world’s fourth and fifth most affected areas. Other badly affected countries include Lebanon, Serbia and Sudan, according to The Monitor.
One hundred and eight* countries have signed the treaty, 38* of which have ratified it.
The convention “bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions and calls for the destruction of stockpiles within eight years, clearance of cluster munitions-contaminated land within 10 years, and assistance to cluster munitions survivors and affected communities,” according to CMC.
* Corrected on 3 August 2010 to add France and therefore update country numbers
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