Fragmentation marks typical of a cluster munitions strike remain in Stalin Square in Gori, Georgia. A cluster munitions attack on the square on August 12, 2008 killed at least 7 people.

© 2008 Marcus Bleasdale/VII

(Washington, DC) - Governments that join the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions should adopt strong national legislation to implement the ban agreement, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 41-page report, "Fulfilling the Ban," lays out the essential elements of strong national legislation to implement the convention. Such legislation should establish criminal penalties for banned activities, as well as require states to meet their "positive" obligations, including by creating mechanisms for destroying stockpiles; clearing unexploded submunitions; assisting victims; providing international assistance; reporting these activities publicly; and promoting the convention.  

"Joining the treaty is just the first step," said Bonnie Docherty, senior researcher in the arms division at Human Rights Watch. "Strong national laws are crucial to making the ban on cluster munitions really work."

The report comes in advance of the biggest international gathering on the convention since it opened for signature in Oslo in December 2008. The meeting is scheduled for June 7 through 9 in Santiago, Chile. A total of 106 states have signed the convention, of which 36 have ratified. 

The Convention on Cluster Munitions comprehensively prohibits the use, production, and transfer of cluster munitions; provides strict deadlines for clearing affected areas and destroying stockpiled cluster munitions; and requires assistance to victims of the weapon. It also obliges countries that join the treaty to take measures at the national level to carry out the treaty's requirements. To date, at least eight countries have enacted laws to implement the convention: Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Other states in the process of drafting national implementation legislation include: Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Sweden.

The report also makes recommendations about how states parties should deal with potentially controversial issues, such as joint military operations with countries that have not joined the convention, the transit of cluster munitions through a state party by countries that have not joined, and a prohibition of public and private investment in cluster munition production.

"Weak national legislation could undermine the convention's ability to eliminate cluster munitions and their humanitarian harm," Docherty said. "Explicit prohibitions on helping other countries with activities banned by the convention should be a top priority."

Some states have indicated that in their view assistance in joint operations is permitted so long as they themselves do not use cluster munitions or expressly request the use of the weapons.

About 80 countries and 120 campaigners from around the world are expected to gather in Santiago to discuss how to universalize and implement the treaty. The Convention on Cluster Munitions will enter into force and become binding international law on August 1. The Chile meeting is crucial for preparation of the convention's First Meeting of States Parties, scheduled for Vientiane, Laos, from November 8 through 12. 

Cluster munitions were banned because of their indiscriminate impact at the time of use and the long-lasting danger they pose to civilians after use. These munitions, which can be fired by artillery and rocket systems or dropped by aircraft, typically explode in the air and spread dozens, even hundreds, of tiny submunitions over an area the size of a football field. In addition, submunitions often fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that act like landmines for months or years to come.