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Questions and answers on the Cluster Munitions Convention

24-06-2008 Interview

The ICRC has warmly welcomed the adoption of the Cluster Munitions Convention. This historic agreement prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions that have caused widespread civilian casualties. The following is an updated version of an interview with Peter Herby, head of the ICRC's arms unit (25.05.08)


Peter Herby, head of the ICRC's Arms Unit    
    The Convention also commits States to clear contaminated areas, destroy their stockpiles and contains ground-breaking provisions for victim assistance. The ICRC is urging all States to sign the Cluster Munitions Convention in Oslo in early December and will actively promote its ratification and implementation.

The head of the ICRC's arms unit, Peter Herby, explains the outcome of the Dublin Conference and the impact it is expected to have.

 What did the Diplomatic Conference achieve?  


The Convention text was agreed by 111 States on 30 May at a diplomatic conference in Dublin, Ireland. The Convention prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions and requires State Parties to destroy existing stocks within eight years. It commits States to the clearance of areas contaminated with unexploded cluster munitions and to the provision of assistance for victims and their communities.

 Is the ICRC satisfied with the outcome of the Cluster Munitions Convention?  


The ICRC is very satisfied with the Convention which, in its view, will completely eliminate cluster munitions that have caused decades of suffering for civilians. It establishes a new norm of international humanitarian law that cluster munitions are prohibited weapons. This norm is likely to have an effect on the practice of all States, even those which are not yet ready to adhere to it formally.


 What impact will the convention have?  


When implemented, the Convention will provide direct benefits to affected communities throug h 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.

 What is the definition of a cluster munition in the Convention?  


Cluster munitions are delivered by air or fired from artillery, which release multiple explosive submunitions or bomblets over a wide area. Some models can contain and release more than 600 submunitions over an area that can exceed more than thirty thousand square metres or several football fields. All such weapons are prohibited by the Convention.

 Are there any exceptions?  


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

 Will troops be criminally liable for undertaking joint military operations with States that have not signed up to the convention?  


This issue was one of the most difficult in the negotiations. The text does not prohibit “military cooperation and operations” with States not party to the Convention and which may use cluster munitions in a joint operation. Yet, States Parties are required in such circumstances to discourage the use of cluster munitions by the non-party States. In addition, while joint military cooperation and operations are allowed, they 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.

The provision on military cooperation and operations (Article 21) limits the scope of the prohibition of assistance in the use of cluster munitions contained in the Convention. However, the potential impact of this provision is limited to some degree by the requirement on States Parties to discourage use of cluster munitions in joint operations.

 A transition period during which cluster munitions could continue to be used by current possessor States was a contentious issue. What has been agreed on this?  


There is no transition period in the Convention for use of cluster munitions “under exceptional circumstances” after the entry into force of the Convention for a State Party. The ICRC strongly opposed such a provision, which, in its view, would have undermined the moral authority of the Convention and put civilian lives at risk.

 What about the States which did not participate in the Dublin negotiations?  


The ICRC believes that the norm established by this Convention will have an effect on the practice and positions of all States. Cluster munitions will henceforth be considered a stigmatized weapon that should not be used by anyone. The ICRC will urge all States to adhere to this Convention. Already in 2006, the ICRC called on all States to immediately end the use of inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions which are now banned by the Convention. We reiterate that call now.

 What are the next steps?  


The Cluster Munitions Convention will be opened for signature at a ceremony in Oslo on 3 December 2008. It will enter into force six months after 30 States have deposited their instruments of ratification with the UN Secretary General. Within the year following entry into force, States Parties will begin meeting annually to oversee the Convention’s implementation and promote its universal adherence.

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