• Send page
  • Print page

Convention on Cluster Munitions: ICRC welcomes signing of historic agreement

03-12-2008 Statement

Statement by Jakob Kellenberger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference, Oslo, 3 December 2008

©ICRC/M Kokic/lb-e-00969    
Singer Prosthetic and Orthopaedic Centre in Saida, Lebanon. A young boy maimed by cluster sub-munitions.    
  ©ICRC/J. Holmes/la-e-00924    
  A government-run rehabilitation centre in Vientiane, Laos.    
  ©ICRC/O. Salbones/rs-e-00008    
  Kosovo. The mother and the young widow of a man killed in an accident involving cluster-munitions.    

Let me begin by paying tribute to the Government of Norway, to the core group of States that guided this successful process and to Ireland which so skilfully hosted and chaired the negotiation of this Convention in Dublin. I would also like to commend the States that adopted the Oslo Declaration in 2007 and those which subsequently joined the Oslo Process. Finally, I pay tribute to the work of the United Nations and to the many non-governmental organizations which form the Cluster Munitions Coalition. Together, we have forever changed how cluster munitions will be seen by States, by the public and by history.

"...the road to Oslo does not end in Oslo. It ends when use of these weapons has ceased, when stockpiles are eliminated, when contaminated areas have been cleared and when victims have been helped to rebuild their lives." 
The " path to Oslo " began when cluster munitions were first used against the British port of Grimsby 65 years ago. Three quarters of the submunitions dropped by aircraft failed to explode as intended and had to be cleared. The weapons were found in roadways, on rooftops and caught in trees. Three quarters of the 61 casualties occurred after, not during, the attack. Children brought these " bomblets " home, some narrowly escaping death. Their removal demanded massive resources.

The " path to Oslo " is also traced through the mountains and rice paddies of Southeast Asia where several hundred million submunitions were dropped and many tens of millions remain today. This path runs through the lives of civilians in Laos, Cambodia a nd Vietnam who have lived with the threat of unexploded submunitions for four decades. Many thousands have lost their lives, their limbs and their loved ones. This pathway of contamination and human loss continued in later years as civilians in Afghanistan, Georgia, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon and other countries have faced the tragic consequences of these weapons. 

Another path to Oslo began 140 years ago in St. Petersburg when an international military commission declared that the only legitimate purpose in war is to weaken the military forces of the enemy and established the principle that, for certain weapons, " the necessities of war ought to yield to the requirements of humanity. " This path continued with the adoption of the two Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions in 1977. The first of these requires that the civilian population " shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations " and that " all feasible precautions " , including in the choice of weapons, be taken to protect them. This path is also traced in the groundbreaking precedents set by the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines and the Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War. These instruments establish that States have a responsibility to prevent and address the harm caused to civilians by " weapons which can't stop killing. "

These two paths converge here today with the signing of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The signing of this Convention by so many States is evidence that the suffering of victims and affected countries has not gone unnoticed. The Convention will establish that these are prohibited weapons and become a bulwark against their further proliferation. It can also change the practice of States that have these weapons but which cannot yet become parties to the Convention. I am confident that even their use of cluster munitions will now become less and less frequent.

But the road to Oslo does not end in Oslo. It ends when use of these weapons has ceased, when stockpiles are eliminated, when contaminated areas have been cleared and when victims have been helped to rebuild their lives. Steps towards achieving these goals include ratification, the adoption of domestic legislation and changes in military doctrine and practice. To this end, the ICRC will be presenting participants in this meeting with ratification kits and a model law for common law States.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions arose out of the unspeakable experience of victims and affected countries. And its path must return to them in the form of a vigorous international effort by States Parties and others to clear contaminated lands and to assist those victims and their communities. Yes, the signing of this Convention is an important success but the true measure of achievement will be how the lives of these people and these communities change in the months and years to come. The ICRC is honoured to have been a part of this extraordinary process and this important development of international humanitarian law. We look forward to continuing our efforts with you to ensure that the promises of this Convention become a reality as quickly as possible.