The Convention on Cluster Munitions - frequently asked questions

13-01-2009 FAQ

Cluster munitions have unique characteristics that make them a grave danger to civilians. They disperse large numbers of explosive submunitions over wide areas and often fail to explode immediately, leaving a long-term legacy of explosive contamination.States have adopted a new treaty that prohibits cluster munitions and requires specific action to address their humanitarian consequences.

To help promote the Convention on Cluster Munitions and guide States in their consideration of the Convention, the ICRC has prepared the following materials:  
  • a ratification kit (available in all six UN languages);  
  • model national legislation providing for the implementation of the treaty as well as the prosecution and punishment of those who violate the treaty's provisions;  
  • a booklet containing the text of the Convention;  
  • a film and a brochure that describe the cluster munitions problem and the obligations under the new treaty.  


Cluster munitions have unique characteristics that make them a grave danger to civilian men, women and children. These weapons are generally delivered by air or fired from artillery, and disperse large numbers of explosive submunitions or bomblets over wide areas, potentially causing high civilian casualties especially when they are used in populated areas. In addition, many submunitions often fail to explode as intended, leaving a long-term legacy of explosive contamination. Many thousands of civilians have been tragically killed and injured by coming into contact with unexploded submunitions.

In response to these humanitarian consequences, States have adopted a new treaty of international humanitarian law that prohibits cluster munitions and requires specific action to address the consequences of these weapons. The adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions is a clear indication that the civilian suffering caused by cluster munitions outweighs the military value that these weapons may have. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions on the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

 1. When was the Convention adopted, and how many States have signed it so far?  

On 30 May 2008, 107 States adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) at a diplomatic conference held in Dublin, Ireland.

The CCM opened for signature on 3 December 2008 at a treaty signing ceremony in Oslo, Norway. During the ceremony, 94 States signed the CCM and four States deposited their instruments of ratification. A number of governments that did not sign the CCM in Oslo indicated that they were considering the implications of the treaty's obligations and were likely to sign in the near future.

To see the total number of States that have signed the CCM, please consult our IHL treaty database  

 2. What is the definition of a cluster munition under the Convention?  

A cluster munition is a conventional munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions, each weighing less than 20 kg.

Some munitions containing submunitions are not considered cluster munitions for the purposes of the treaty. These include munitions designed to disperse flares or smoke. Also excluded are munitions that contain fewer than 10 explosive submunitions when each of these submunitions is (a) designed to locate and engage a “single target object” (or “point target”) and (b) equipped with an electronic self-destruction and self-deactivating feature. Very few submunitions with these features are stockpiled today.


 3. What does the Convention prohibit?  

The CCM prohibits the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer of cluster munitions. It also prohibits assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in these activities. Once a State has become a party to the Convention, it cannot defer this prohibition.

The CCM effectively bans all cluster munitions that have been used in conflicts over the last 6 decades and that cause the humanitarian problem described above.


 4. What are States' commitments under the Convention?  

Under the CCM, States commit to clearing areas contaminated with unexploded submunitions within 10 years of the instrument's entry into force for that State. They also agree to destroy their cluster munition stockpiles within 8 years.

In addition, States Parties with cluster munition victims on their territory or under their control must provide medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, and pro vide for their social and economic inclusion on a non-discriminatory basis. The CCM's victim assistance provisions, including its comprehensive definition of " victim " which includes individuals, their families and their communities, constitute the most far-reaching victim assistance obligations ever included in a treaty of international humanitarian law.

States that do not have victims on their territory or under their control are also obliged to help. The Convention requires that States Parties, when in a position to do so, provide technical, material and financial assistance to affected States Parties for the implementation of the Convention's commitments. 


 5. Will troops be criminally liable for being involved in a military operation with non- party States that use cluster munitions?  

The Convention does not prevent States Parties from engaging in “military cooperation and operations” with States that are not party to the treaty and that might use cluster munitions. Yet, States Parties are required to promote adherence to the CCM and discourage the use of cluster munitions by non-party States. In addition, combined military operations must not entail the use of cluster munitions by the State Party itself or another prohibited activity such as the stockpiling, transfer or production of cluster munitions.


 6. What steps does a State need to take to become a party to the Convention?  

The CCM opened for signature at a ceremony in Oslo on 3 December 2008. Although the Oslo signing ceremony has ended, States can still sign the Convention at United Nations He adquarters in New York until it enters into force. Once the Convention enters into force, the period allowed for signatures will end, but States will still be able to become parties to the Convention by depositing an instrument of accession.

Signature alone does not make the treaty binding on the State. By signing a treaty, a State authenticates the text as finalized and expresses its intention to move towards ratification in the future. A State may therefore sign the CCM without having begun or completed its national ratification process. But, it is only when a State has completed its national process for the ratification of treaties, and subsequently informed the UN Secretary-General, that the Convention's provisions become binding international law for that State.

Signature and ratification are essential steps to ensure that the Convention can deliver its promise to victims and affected countries. As mentioned in the box above, the ICRC has prepared ratification kits in six languages to guide States in this important process.


 7. When will the Convention enter into force?  

The Convention enters into force six months after the 30th State has deposited its instrument of ratification with the UN Secretary-General. When this occurs, the Convention's obligations become formally binding on those 30 States. For each subsequent State, the Convention will enter into force six months after the deposit of its instrument of ratification with the UN Secretary-General.


 8. What national measures must be taken to implement the Convention?  

States Parties are obl iged to take all appropriate legal, administrative and other measures to implement the CCM. Such measures include adopting legislation imposing penal sanctions to prevent and suppress prohibited acts, submitting annual reports to the UN Secretary-General on the status of implementation, participating in regular meetings of States Parties to discuss implementation and best practices, adopting changes in military doctrine and operating procedures, and implementing plans for the clearance, destruction, victim and international assistance commitments described above.


 9. What impact will the Convention have?  

When implemented, the Convention will provide direct benefits to affected communities through increased efforts to clear areas contaminated by cluster munitions, thus saving lives and returning lands for agriculture and other productive activities.

It will also benefit victims of cluster munitions through an increased commitment to various types of support, including medical and rehabilitation.

Most importantly, the Convention can prevent tremendous human suffering by ensuring that hundreds of millions of cluster submunitions are never used and are destroyed.

The norms established by this Convention will also have an effect on the practice and positions of States that have not yet adhered to it. With the adoption and impending entry into force of this treaty, cluster munitions are already considered a stigmatized weapon by many countries, the media and the public. It will be difficult for anyone to use cluster munitions in the future.


 10. What is the continuing role of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement?  

In the coming months, the primary objective of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement will be to ensure that the CCM enters into force and becomes binding international humanitarian law by achieving the necessary 30 ratifications in the shortest possible timeframe. A number of national and regional meetings are being planned to facilitate understanding of the Convention's provisions and to encourage the maximum number of States to become parties as soon as possible.

In their dialogues with political and government authorities, members of parliament and the media, the ICRC and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will raise and maintain awareness of the link between the use of cluster munitions and the CCM, as well as the importance of universal adherence and effective implementation. The Movement will also organize, host and participate in international meetings, regional seminars and national workshops to promote adherence and implementation. If cluster munitions are used, then the Movement's components will intervene with State and parliament officials to raise the importance of adhering to and complying with these norms.



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