(Berlin) – Germany’s ratification of the new treaty banning cluster munitions is an important step, Human Rights Watch said today. Germany deposited its instrument of ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions at the United Nations in New York, making it the 11th country to ratify the treaty.
“Germany’s swift ratification of this treaty shows its strong commitment to reducing the deadly impact of cluster munitions,” said Marianne Heuwagen, Berlin director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope that other nations will follow its example by ratifying the convention quickly.”
The convention, signed by 98 nations since December 2008, comprehensively prohibits use, production, and trade of cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiles within eight years and clearance of contaminated areas within 10 years, and establishes a framework for assisting victims of the weapon. The other countries that have ratified are Albania, Austria, Holy See, Ireland, Laos, Mexico, Niger, Norway, Sierra Leone, and Spain. When 30 countries have ratified, a six-month countdown begins for the treaty to enter into force.
Following the conclusion of the negotiations on the convention in May 2008, Germany renounced the use of cluster munitions, effective immediately, made a commitment to destroy its stockpiles as fast as possible, and said it would urge others to join the treaty without delay. Germany’s minister of foreign affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, signed the convention in Oslo, Norway, on December 3.
“We urge Germany to put the knowledge it gained from its past production of cluster munitions to good use by swiftly destroying its arsenal of these weapons,” said Heuwagen. “The government should also not hesitate to assist other treaty members to destroy their stockpiled cluster munitions and encourage non-signatories with significant stockpiles to sign and become part of this process.”
In the past, German industry was very active in the production and export of cluster munitions. In 2001, Germany started to destroy some of its cluster munitions stocks due to reliability concerns, and it stopped production and export of the weapon in 2005. Germany has possessed a stockpile of cluster munitions containing more than 50 million submunitions. Cluster submunitions often fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that act like landmines and pose danger to civilians.
As of February 2009, approximately 30 percent of Germany’s stockpile had been destroyed. Germany announced in April that it would destroy its stockpile within the convention’s eight-year deadline, at an estimated destruction cost of €40 million.Internationally, Human Rights Watch co-chairs the Cluster Munition Coalition, which it helped found in November 2003. In Germany, Human Rights Watch is working together with Actiongroup Landmine.de, Handicap International Germany, and other civil society groups to ensure strong government support for the Convention on Cluster Munitions. On June 25 and 26, Germany hosted one of the year’s most important meetings on cluster munitions, focused on the convention’s requirements for destruction of stockpiled cluster munitions.
Cluster munitions can be fired by artillery and rocket systems or dropped by aircraft, and typically explode in the air and send dozens, or even hundreds, of the tiny submunitions or bomblets over an area the size of a football field. Cluster munitions cannot distinguish between military targets and civilians, so their humanitarian impact can be extreme when they are used in or near populated areas.