Laos and the Convention on Cluster Munitions

The first meeting of state parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) which gathered 101 countries as well as numerous Non Governmental Organisations was held between 9th and 12th November in Vientiane, Laos. This conference followed the first effort undertaken by the civil society which has heavily lobbied to make the international community uphold the CCM. Adopted on 30 May 2008 in Dublin, 108 countries have already signed the CCM while 46 countries have ratified it. Today, about 36 countries are affected by cluster bombs which are still widely produced, used, and stockpiled.

Anna MacDonald, head of Control Arms campaign, reminds on Oxfam International Blogs why Laos hosts the CCM:

We are all here for the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions – which basically means the first annual meeting since the cluster bomb treaty was agreed.   It’s a very relevant location, as more than 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos during America’s “secret war” between 1964 and 1973. At least 30% failed to detonate, and decades later, up to 80 million cluster bomblets lie undetonated across the country.

A deminer holds a fragment from a BLU 26 cluster munition which can travel approximately 150 metres.Savannakhet Province, Laos 2010 - by CMC under CC Licence

A deminer holds a fragment from a BLU 26 cluster munition which can travel approximately 150 metres.Savannakhet Province, Laos 2010 – by CMC under CC Licence

The aim of the CCM is of course to make cluster bombs’ production, use, stockpiling and transfer banned in all countries of the world. Cluster bombs are supposed to target military objectives but civilian facilities are often killed and injured by these weapons. According to the NGO Handicap International, 98% of recorded casualties associated with cluster bomb are civilians, and 27% involves children.  In another post, Anna MacDonald stresses that these weapons are against the international humanitarian law:

The ban on cluster bombs took 18 months to go through negotiation, although campaigners, activists and supportive governments had worked for many more years previously to ban these indiscriminate weapons. Cluster bombs are nasty, indiscriminate weapons that are hard to target and often lay unexploded on the ground for months, years and even decades after they were dropped. Children are particularly vulnerable potential victims, as they are attracted to these strange shiny little objects in the ground.

Vivian Tan, contributor on the blog IntLawGrrls, emphasizes the importance of the CCM:

The general prohibition in the Cluster Munitions Convention against the production, use, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions represents a significant improvement upon the vague standards of the older Conventional Weapons Convention. The later treaty's mandate for the destruction of stockpiles is particularly important, as many countries have retained old cluster bombs dating as far back as the Cold War that have become highly unstable with age…This new treaty also sets specific deadlines for bomb clearance and destruction [countries are to destroy their stockpiles within eight years,  and clear their territory of unexploded submunitions within 10 years].

In addition, the Cluster Munitions Convention addresses victims already injured. States parties are obligated to develop national plans to assist all victims affected by cluster bombs without discrimination…Also laudable are transparency measures and requirements for thorough reporting. Within 180 days after the treaty enters into force for a state party, the state must disclose to the United Nations information such as a description of its current stockpile, bomb clearance and destruction programs, known areas of contamination, and proposed plans to achieve the goals of the Cluster Munitions Convention.

In the same post, she also points out CCM’s significant omissions :

First, the treaty only addresses cluster bombs dispensed by aircraft, leaving out those launched by submarines or on land. At the same time, the treaty gives a generic definition of cluster munitions that may result in an over-inclusive ban on more sophisticated models that do not cause the devastating humanitarian harm associated with the antiquated types.

Disparity among the state parties’ capacities and ill-defined standards are also critical drawbacks. Where there exist no relevant international regulations, the Cluster Munitions Convention requires state parties to apply “any necessary national law” to achieve its goals and penalize non-compliance. This may result in significant inconsistencies in enforcement among state parties. The treaty is also unclear on who should monitor its implementation, such the use of trust funds or mediation of dispute settlements between state parties…State parties are also obligated to bear the costs incurred by the United Nations in enforcing transparency and compliance measures. The heavier burden will fall upon poorer nations, who may not have the resources to keep up with the strict compliance standards in the first place.
The Cluster Munitions Convention has met resistance from major stockpilers like the United States, Russia, and China, because it does not take into account the military value of cluster munitions or the expensive nature of their clearance and destruction. The key players’ refusal to adopt the treaty diminishes other states’ incentives to join.

Bonnie Docherty, researcher at the NGO Human Right Watch, adds on the blog The UK Debate:

A strong interpretation of the treaty also is important to maximize its humanitarian impact. While many of its provisions are clear, a few of its more controversial articles leave room for debate.

Most notably, some countries contend that the treaty waives the ban on assistance with prohibited activities during joint military operations with countries that have not joined. But many others, and  civil society groups, counter that the treaty cannot logically be interpreted to require countries that have joined to eliminate cluster munitions while permitting them to help another country use them.

Finally, countries need to carry out their promises. Many have started by passing national implementation legislation and destroying stockpiles. But more such laws are needed.  They should codify the convention’s obligations as well as its prohibitions.

On November 12, the Vientiane Declaration and the Vientiane Action Plan, calling for concrete actions against cluster bombs, have been adopted by the State Parties. During the meeting, several countries – including New Zealand, Austria, Belgium or Luxemburg notably – announced a 30 million dollar donation for cluster bomb clearance in Laos through grant aid and NGO funding, while Austria declared that the destruction of its cluster bomb stockpiles has been completed. But a lot has to be done. If significant military powers, such as the United Kingdom, France or Germany, have already signed and ratified the treaty, the United States, China, Russia or Israel – the biggest stockpilers and users – are still reluctant to take the plunge. Besides, the US army is accused of using cluster bombs last year as Amnesty International uncovered a cluster bomb attack in Yemen in December 2009. In 2008, Russia used cluster bombs during its trial of strength with Georgia. Meanwhile, Israel dropped 4 millions cluster bombs during the 2006 South Lebanon war. Next year, in September, Lebanon is scheduled to host the next second meeting of State Parties to the Convention of Cluster Munitions.

See also Handicap International's video tracing efforts carried out until the CCM


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