Cluster munitions

30 November 2011

Cluster munitions have had a severe impact on civilians, killing and injuring large numbers and causing long lasting socio-economic problems. In 2008, governments negotiated and adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions. This important international humanitarian law treaty prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions and requires States to take specific action to ensure that these weapons claim no future victims.

The problems caused by cluster munitions are not new. In nearly every conflict where they have been used over the past 40 years cluster munitions have taken a heavy toll on civilians both during the fighting and after military operations have ended.

Civilian casualties during conflict often occur because cluster munitions scatter huge numbers of explosive submunitions over very large areas. Some models discharge hundreds of submunitions over more than thirty thousand square metres of territory. Since these submunitions are generally free-falling, incorrect use, wind, and other factors can cause them to strike well outside the intended target area.

In addition, large numbers of submunitions often fail to detonate as intended, contaminating large areas with deadly explosive ordnance. Many thousands of civilians have been killed or injured by these devices. The presence of these weapons makes farming a dangerous activity and hinders the reconstruction and development of vital infrastructure such as roads, railways and power plants. Clearing unexploded submunitions after a conflict is often difficult and dangerous. Some countries have been dealing with unexploded submunitions for decades. Laos is the country most heavily affected by cluster munitions with tens of millions of unexploded submunitions littering its territory.

In 2008 governments negotiated and adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions. This treaty provides a comprehensive framework for addressing the problems associated with these weapons. It prohibits the use, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer of cluster munitions. It also requires State Parties to destroy the cluster munitions in their stockpiles and commits them to clearing areas contaminated with unexploded submunitions or abandoned cluster munitions. Importantly, the Convention also obliges States to provide for the medical care, rehabilitation, psychological support, and social and economic inclusion of cluster munition victims in areas under its jurisdiction or control. States Parties in a position to do so must also provide assistance and cooperation to help other States implement their obligations under the Convention.