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The Welcome Demise of Cluster Munitions

How many legs lost? Photo: François Bouchet/flickr

Munitions that break apart and scatter over a wide territory have been used since World War II. But yesterday, 1 August 2010, the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) has finally become part of international Humanitarian Law. Following in the footsteps of the Mine Ban Treaty, the CCM disallows the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions.

The impetus for the treaty was widespread concern over the severe damage and risks to civilians from explosive weapons not only during, but also long after attacks. Cluster munitions (or cluster bombs) are indiscriminate weapons dropped from the air or deployed by ground-based delivery systems that often distribute hundreds of bomblets (or submunitions) that can cover an area the size of several football fields. On impact, many of the bomblets fail to explode – by design or flaw – and thereby remain a threat to lives and livelihoods many years after the conflict has ended. The most vulnerable, as usual, are the children, mistaking the deadly shrapnel for toys.

Under the CCM, countries that ratify the convention will be obliged “never under any circumstances” to:
(a) Use cluster munitions;
(b) Develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, cluster munitions;
(c) Assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.

The signatories include producer nations with military stockpiles of more than 100 million of the bomblets such as Britain, Germany, and France. Holdouts include Russia, Israel and the United States. All three of these countries have used cluster bombs in the past decade. Russia during its conflict with Georgia in 2008; Israel during its conflict with the Hezbollah in 2006; and the US during the initial phases of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Here are some interesting resources on the topic: