Preventing human suffering from cluster bombs: ban convention’s achievements five years after entry into force
Five years on from entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, it is deeply distressing to see the use of these internationally banned weapons in Libya, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen. The aim of the treaty is to prevent human suffering and the effects of the cluster bombing of these countries illustrate very clearly why that aim is so important. Civilians have been killed and injured. Land has been contaminated. Communities will be affected for years to come. States and other actors that continue to stockpile and use cluster munitions are storing up a legacy of injustice for themselves. It is to be hoped that such states will reject this weapon and join the majority of the world’s states in prohibiting and eliminating it through the ban treaty.
However, as we condemn the actions of a handful of states outside the treaty, we should also pause to consider what the use of cluster munitions would look like today without the Convention on Cluster Munitions. There is little doubt that the treaty has made use of cluster munitions much less likely. Given the international condemnation that follows any use of the weapons, one should have confidence that eventually this standard will make the use of cluster munitions a thing of the past.
Former users of cluster munitions like the UK have been and are involved in a number of military conflicts since signing the treaty in 2008. Yet, in line with their legal obligations under the treaty, UK forces have not used cluster munitions in those conflicts and never again will because the entire UK stockpile has been destroyed.
Major stockpilers of cluster munitions that remain outside the treaty have also broadly refrained from using cluster munitions, despite being actively involved in military operations. The only documented use of cluster munitions by the US since the treaty was signed is the attack in Yemen in 2009, only a few months after the signing conference in Oslo. Despite its widespread use of explosive weapons in populated areas of Gaza, Israel has not used cluster munitions since 2006 when it bombarded southern Lebanon with the weapons.
Millions of cluster munitions have been destroyed. Land has been cleared. The rights of victims can no longer be ignored. This is real and tangible progress of which states and organisations should rightly be proud.
At the 2008 signing conference of the CCM in Oslo, the treaty’s first Review Conference seemed a long way off. There was a feeling that collectively, humanity had dealt a blow to cluster munitions. There was a strong sense of hope that the community gathered in Oslo’s Town Hall had developed an effective vehicle to end the suffering these weapons cause. As the same community gathers in Dubrovnik for the First Review Conference, we should be confident that the vehicle set on the road in Oslo is in good shape. The treaty’s aim, though, provides a long-term challenge for all of those committed to the protection of civilians and to the principle of humanity. The use of cluster bombs this year illustrates the scale of that challenge, but also its relevance and urgency.
The community must continue to work hard to achieve the aim of the treaty. This will take the strength of conviction to condemn any use of cluster bombs by any actor and it will take the determination to convince those still outside the treaty that the only decent course of action is to ban the weapons and work with other states parties to end the suffering they cause.
The Dubrovnik Review Conference and the adoption of its political outcomes are a key test of that collective conviction and determination. Despite the bizarre and isolated legal contortions undertaken by the UK, Australia and Canada (and Lithuania), the adoption by acclamation of the Dubrovnik Declaration today has sent a clear political signal that any use of cluster munitions, by any actor, will be condemned. Such condemnation is not only consistent with the treaty, it is the best way for states parties to implement their legal obligations under the treaty to discourage use of cluster munitions and bring on board those outside that have not yet banned the weapons. As the Dubrovnik Review Conference continues, the resounding condemnation of cluster munition use suggests that states parties are taking those obligations seriously.
The says it is a global humanitarian leader, so why won’t it condemn banned weapons? – blog from Thomas Nash on Huffington Post UK