by Le Thanh
GENEVA — The Convention on Cluster Munitions, banning the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions, became a binding international law yesterday.
It was the most important disarmament and humanitarian convention since the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty banning antipersonnel landmines, said the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) at the UN Office in Geneva.
Adopted in Dublin, in May 2008, and opened for signature in Oslo in December of the same year, the convention also calls for the destruction of stockpiles within eight years, clearance of contaminated land within 10 years and assistance for cluster munitions survivors and affected communities.
All of the convention's provisions become fully and legally binding for signatory states this month.
To date, 107 countries have signed the convention and 37 have ratified it. Among them are former users and producers of cluster munitions as well as countries affected by the weapons.
The international stigma against cluster munitions has already taken root, and the last confirmed use of cluster munitions in a major armed conflict met with international condemnation when both Russia and Georgia used them in the conflict over South Ossetia in August 2008.
"Work is already under way to implement the Convention's provisions, which shows that states are serious about ending the civilian suffering caused by cluster bombs and helping survivors and affected communities to enjoy their full human rights," said Marion Libertucci, advocacy officer at Handicap International and CMC co-chair.
In recent weeks, Moldova and Norway destroyed the last of their cluster munitions stockpiles, joining Spain which eradicated its stockpile last year. Nearly a dozen other states have begun destruction of the munitions, including the United Kingdom, a major former user and producer of the weapons. In December 2009, Albania completed clearance of the weapons on its territory, the first signatory country to do so.
The first meeting of representatives from convention states will be held from November 9-12 in Laos, the world's most cluster bombed country. This key meeting will lay the foundation for future work on the convention by bringing together for the first time representatives of treaty signatories, UN agencies, international organisations, civil society and cluster bomb survivors. Governments will share progress to date and draw up action plans to implement the treaty's lifesaving provisions within established deadlines.
"Only a few years ago, many people said it was an impossible dream to ban cluster bombs," said Branislav Kapetanovic, a CMC spokesperson who lost all four limbs to a cluster submunition explosion during a clearance operation in Serbia. "What this treaty shows is that ordinary people, including cluster bomb survivors like me, can be a part of extraordinary changes that bring real improvements to people's lives all over the world."
CMC campaigners are holding events in approximately 75 countries on all continents and aboard a ship in the Arctic Ocean to mark the Conventions entry into force. They will engage in a variety of activities to "beat the drum to ban cluster bombs", including drumming sessions, film screenings, panel discussions, football games and photo exhibitions.
Cluster munitions (or cluster bombs) are weapons containing multiple – often hundreds – of small explosive submunitions or bomblets. Cluster munitions are dropped from the air or fired from the ground and designed to break open in mid-air, releasing the submunitions over an area that can be the size of several football fields. They cannot discriminate between civilians and soldiers. Many submunitions fail to explode on impact and remain a threat to lives and livelihoods for decades after a conflict. — VNS