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ICRC reaffirms strong support for Convention on Cluster Munitions

03-11-2008 Statement

Statement of Dr Philip Spoerri Director for International Law and Cooperation within the Movement, ICRC. Group of Governmental Experts of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, Geneva, 3 November 2008

The international environment in which States Parties to this Convention are addressing the high human costs of cluster munition use has changed dramatically since the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for a specific international instrument on cluster munitions in September 2000. The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) adopted in Dublin, which the ICRC strongly supports, provides an effective response to the cluster munitions problem. It meets the ICRC's call for the prohibition of unreliable and inaccurate cluster munitions. We urge all States to sign this Convention in Oslo and to ratify and implement its provisions as a matter of priority. In our view, the comprehensive approach taken in this Convention will finally put an end to the long-term suffering among civilian populations that cluster munitions cause.

We recognise, however, that some States may not yet be able to adhere to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in the near future. We appreciate that in the context of this Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) additional States with large cluster munition stocks have begun to examine ways to address the humanitarian problems caused by cluster munitions. 

For the ICRC the key challenge for this meeting of the GGE will be to determine what contribution the CCW could make to addressing the cluster munition problem. In our view such contributions should be both effective on the ground and complementary to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, while not contradicting its provisions. A crucial test in this regard is whether a proposed result would legitimise the use of precisely those types of weapons that are now prohibited in the Convention on Cluster Muniti ons. Such a result, negotiated after the norms of the CCM were adopted, could adversely affect the clarity and coherence of international humanitarian law.

The ICRC has carefully followed the GGE's discussions on restrictions on cluster munition use based on specific technical characteristics and the Chairman's draft rules which were circulated in July, September and most recently last Friday. While we recognize the efforts made by States in this framework, we are deeply concerned that the principal focus of Article 4 of the current draft text is on ensuring the reliability of submunitions. Restrictions or prohibitions which address only this aspect would, in our view, not constitute an adequate response to the humanitarian problem as it exists in the field. Indeed it could perpetuate those humanitarian problems related, in particular, to the inaccuracy of cluster munition submunitions and the massive numbers used. Given these concerns, we would urge States to seriously consider alternative approaches such as the complete prohibition of the transfer of cluster munitions. In this regard, we are pleased to note that the current draft includes an immediate prohibition of the transfer of certain cluster munitions manufactured before 1990. However, to be fully effective this rule needs to be strengthened in a number of ways. We will return to this point at the appropriate time in the discussions. 

The ICRC looks forward to continuing discussion on the rules of international humanitarian law which may be part of a CCW protocol on cluster munitions. Although this aspect of the Chairman's paper was not discussed in the September meeting, the ICRC and a number of delegations previously expressed concern that the draft protocol omits several existing rules which are already applicable to cluster munitions. Such omissions may create uncertainty as to the status of the existing law applicable to cluster munitions and whether the omitted rules remain r elevant to the use of these weapons. We hope that this can be resolved during our work over the coming days.

Mr. Chairman,

The ICRC appreciates every effort which States have made in recent years to address the existing and growing humanitarian problem associated with the use of cluster munitions. These efforts include investment in clearance of unexploded cluster munitions already threatening populations, victim assistance, moratoria on the use of cluster munitions and the beginning of destruction of particularly dangerous models and older stocks. Such actions have been stimulated by the voice of the " public conscience " , by the Oslo process and by efforts within this GGE. Regardless of what may or not be achieved here such efforts can and must continue. However, if the rules under consideration are to become part of international humanitarian law we would strongly urge, for the sake of IHL in general and of the CCW in particular, that they be clear and unambiguous. This is essential if the instrument is to be implemented in a predictable and consistent manner so as to achieve the humanitarian objectives of this exercise.