Ending the suffering caused by cluster munitions for all time

09-11-2010 Statement

Statement by Christine Beerli, vice-president of the ICRC. First Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions,Lao People's Democratic Republic.

 Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,


"Decades of failure, decades of civilian suffering". These are the words the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) used to characterize cluster munitions in 2007 when, as part of the "Oslo process", it reinvigorated its efforts to end the suffering caused by these weapons. Nowhere has the reality of these words meant more than here in the Lao People's Democratic Republic where cluster munitions used here some 40 years ago are continuing to kill and injure on a large scale, to deny land for agriculture and to impede development. Yet I was very impressed by what I had the opportunity to witness yesterday in Xienghuang province. Though much work remains to be done, great work is being accomplished by courageous men and women whom I wish to commend here today.

To the people and communities of Laos affected by these horrific weapons, our presence here today is a message that the international community has been moved by your suffering and is committed, finally, to seeing it end. Our presence here also gives us a chance to commend the determination and international leadership of the Lao government in calling attention to the human and social costs of cluster munitions, in contributing to the development of a strong Convention prohibiting these weapons and in hosting this landmark First Meeting of States Parties.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions is equally a response to communities in Cambodia and Viet Nam that have long suffered the effects of these weapons, and to people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, the Balkans, Lebanon and the border areas of Ethiopia and Eritrea and elsewhere, who have had their lives shattered by them. The message of this Convention is that the world is not indifferent to needless suffering caused by weapons of war.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions comes decades too late for those whose lives have already been impacted. But it is nonetheless a tremendous victory for prevention. After being considered an essential weapon by a growing number of armed forces since they were first used in the Second World War, cluster munitions are now, by virtue of this Convention, stigmatized as unacceptable. Millions of submunitions will be destroyed by States Parties. More than half the world's States have rejected these weapons by signing the Convention. The proliferation of cluster munitions and of the suffering they inflict, which was set to continue relentlessly, has now been stopped in large parts of the world.


Today we are brought together by a historic treaty, designed "to put an end for all time to the suffering and casualties caused by cluster munitions" and to assist individual victims and their communities.

The Convention's absolute norm against cluster munitions has already led to a review of cluster-munition policy, doctrine and technology by major stockpilers that are not yet able to adhere. I am confident that even their use of cluster munitions will now become less and less frequent. The States Parties must remain committed to ensuring that this happens by giving high priority to universalization of the Convention and by ensuring that norms and practices do not evolve that contradict its provisions.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, like the Mine Ban Convention, is not only a set of prohibitions, though these are fundamental to its success. It is also a promise to affected communities, to victims and to survivors that their lives will be improved through risk reduction, the clearance of contaminated land, medical care, rehabilitation, psycho-social support and economic opportunities. The professional expertise required to deliver results in all these fields is well established and well known. What is needed in virtually every affected country is to build capacity and mobilize resources so that the job will in fact be done.In mobilizing resources and building capacity, we urge the States Parties to remain focused on the actual needs of the small number of affected countries. What will improve people's lives is not so much the development of guidelines and reaching of understandings in multilateral meetings but national planning and resource mobilization in the States affected, and support for those efforts by all the States Parties. Indeed most of the learning has already been done under the Mine Ban Convention and in cluster munition clearance programs that have been operational in the most affected States for many years. We hope to hear more about such efforts this week. We urge all the States in a position to help to announce specific commitments in support of the affected States at this meeting or soon thereafter. The benefits of this Convention should be felt in 2011 already so that the second meeting of States Parties can not only discuss future plans but also record significant progress achieved in the fields of clearance and victim assistance. 

Implementing this Convention at the national level will also require a variety of measures by all State Parties. First and foremost, national legislation is required to ensure that all acts prohibited by the Convention will be criminalized and punished at national level. Administrative measures will be needed for the recording and reporting of information required by the Convention. For those who have previously relied on cluster munitions, military doctrine and rules of engagement will need to be revised and military training changed. For such States, stockpile-destruction programs must be put in place soon to ensure compliance with the eight-year deadline. Through its delegations around the world, the ICRC stands ready to help States develop their national legislation. We have also produced model legislation for common law States which is available in all official languages.  

We now have the tools to put an end to decades of civilian suffering. Let us use them. (... ) If we succeed, this can be the decade when the scourge of cluster munitions is ended once and for all.

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thirty-five years ago, in Laos and other affected countries in this region, humanitarian action on cluster munitions consisted of local people and a few pioneering NGOs like the Mennonite Central Committee and the Quakers. These organizations simply provided shovels in place of hoes to reduce the chances of farmers detonating cluster munitions as they worked their land. That action also took the form of seven countries led by Sweden unsuccessfully calling for the prohibition of "anti-personnel" cluster munitions at a diplomatic conference on international humanitarian law in the 1970s. Ten years ago, following the Kosovo conflict, the ICRC unsuccessfully called on States to suspend use of cluster munitions until new rules to protect civilians from their effects were negotiated. Again, decades of failure, decades of civilian suffering.

Today we are brought together by a historic treaty, one signed by 108 States and so far ratified by 46. It is designed "to put an end for all time to the suffering and casualties caused by cluster munitions" and to assist individual victims and their communities. This remarkable advance is a tribute to the partnership developed among governments, civil society led by the Cluster Munition Coalition, clearance operators, the United Nations and its agencies and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. We now have the tools – in the framework of this Convention – to put an end to decades of civilian suffering. Let us use them. Fulfilling the promises of this Convention will not be easy. It will require the same type of determination and partnership as achieving the Convention itself did. And it demands far more resources. If we succeed, this can be the decade when the scourge of cluster munitions is ended once and for all.


See also : Cluster munitions: why we have to limit them



Laos. A father watches over his daughter who was injured by submunitions; this girl's mother and brother were injured and another brother died.
© ICRC / J. Holmes / la-e-00938


Laos. Piles of rusted war material including bombs, mortars, and unexploded submunitions outside a metal foundry in Xieng Khouang province.
© ICRC / J. Holmes / la-e-00952


In the fields of Xieng Khouang province a clearance team uses a detector to look for UXO and other metal objects.
© ICRC / P. Herby / la-e-00953