(Lusaka) – The international treaty banning cluster munitions is gaining in strength despite Syria’s use of the weapons, Human Rights Watch said today as a diplomatic meeting of the convention concluded in Lusaka, Zambia.
“Syria is on the wrong side of history as it uses cluster bombs against its own people,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chairman of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC). “The countries that came together this week reported new momentum for the complete ban on these stigmatized weapons. Every country that cares about protecting civilians should join this treaty without delay.”
A total of 112 countries have signed or acceded to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits these weapons and has humanitarian provisions requiring clearance of cluster munition remnants and assistance for victims of the weapons. Of these countries, 83 are states parties legally bound to carry out all of the convention’s provisions. The other 29 have signed but not yet ratified the convention, meaning they must uphold the convention’s object and purpose. The week-long Fourth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions was the first time the convention has met in Africa.
Participants adopted the Zambia Progress Report, which notes that a large number of countries have condemned or otherwise expressed concern about the use of cluster munitions in Syria in 2012 and 2013. During the meeting, 31 states parties and signatories as well as the European Union and United Nations expressed concern at the use of cluster munitions, with most condemning Syria’s extensive continued use of the weapons.
In Syria, Human Rights Watch identified 152 separate locations where government forces used at least 204 cluster munitions between July 2012 and June 2013, in 9 of the country’s 14 governorates. Several locations have been repeatedly attacked with cluster munitions. This data provides only an incomplete picture, however, as not all cluster munition remnants have been recorded.
Notable announcements at the Zambia meeting included:
- Chile has completed the destruction of its stockpiled cluster munitions, making it the 23rd state party to do so;
- Denmark and the UK have destroyed the vast majority of their stockpiles of cluster munitions and will finish before the end of 2013;
- Cambodia, Ethiopia, Gabon, Mongolia, Palestine, and South Sudan intend to join the treaty;
- Signatories Angola, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, and Tanzania expect to complete their ratification of the convention soon;
- Mauritania and Norway intend to complete clearance of cluster munitions remnants by the end of 2013, and Afghanistan and Mozambique plan to finish within three years.
“It is clear that nations are taking their obligations under this treaty extremely seriously, including through extraordinarily rapid destruction of stockpiles,” Goose said. “By not participating, the United States and other countries that have not signed on are missing out on the most successful humanitarian disarmament initiative of the past decade.”
The United States did not participate in the 2007-2008 Oslo process that created the Convention on Cluster Munitions and it has never attended a meeting of the convention. A total of 103 nations participated in the Zambia meeting, including China and 27 other non-signatories that attended as observers.
At the Zambia meeting, states parties formally agreed to an offer by Costa Rica to host the Fifth Meeting of States Parties in San José, in the first week of September 2014.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions comprehensively prohibits cluster munitions and requires destruction of stockpiles within eight years, clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants within 10 years, and assistance to victims of the weapon. Since the convention entered into force on August 1, 2010, becoming binding international law, countries wishing to join may no longer sign, but must accede, a process that essentially combines signature and ratification.
Cluster munitions have been banned because of their widespread indiscriminate effect at the time of use, and the long-lasting danger they pose to civilians. Cluster munitions can be fired by artillery and rocket systems or dropped by aircraft, and typically explode in the air and send dozens, even hundreds, of tiny bomblets over an area the size of a football field. The submunitions often fail to explode on initial impact, leaving deadly duds that act like landmines.
Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of the Cluster Munition Coalition, the international civil society coalition behind the Convention on Cluster Munitions.