The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which seeks to ban the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of these weapons, has been ratified and will enter into force on 1 August 2010.
The convention agreed in December 2008 in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, requires ratification by 30 countries to become binding in international law; on 16 February 2010, legislation enacted by Burkina Faso and Moldova fulfilled this stipulation. So far 104 countries have signed and are in various stages of adopting the convention - also known as the Oslo Process - in their legislation.
"The rapid pace of reaching 30 ratifications - only 15 months - reflects the strong global commitment to get rid of these weapons urgently," said Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch and co-chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), an international civil society umbrella body representing 350 CMC organisations in about 90 countries, in a statement.
Cluster munitions, or cluster bombs, are indiscriminate weapons dropped from the air or deployed by ground-based delivery systems that often distribute hundreds of bomblets, or submunitions, that can cover an area the size of several football fields. Many of the bomblets fail to explode - by design or flaw - and remain a threat to lives and livelihoods many years after the conflict has ended.
Conor Fortune, a CMC spokesman, told IRIN that the "very rapid ratification [of the convention was] because of the co-operation between states in favour of the ban, civil society, the UN, among others".
He said the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) served as a useful model. It aimed to create a universal acceptance of the ban on antipersonnel mines, destruction of all stockpiles of these weapons, clear all mined areas, and provide assistance to all landmine victims; it came into force in 1999 and in its first 10 years was acceded to by about 80 percent of the world's countries (56 states).
Like the MBT, the CCM seeks to ban the use, production and transfer of cluster munitions, and set deadlines for the destruction of the weapons and the clearance of contaminated land, as well as making it obligatory for signatory states to support survivors and those communities affected by deployment of the weapons.
States had begun complying with the terms of the convention even before the cluster ban treaty became effective. Spain announced in 2009 that it had destroyed its cluster munitions stockpile, and "Albania announced in December 2009 that it was the first signatory country to complete clearance of cluster bomblet contamination on its territory," the CMC said in a statement.
It is expected that certain countries - the US, China, Russia and Israel - will resist signing the convention, as was the case with the MBT, but the shame of using the weapon - just like the use of anti-personnel landmines - is one of the strongest allies of those seeking its obsolescence.
"The use of the weapon has become so stigmatized states fear using it, because the levels of international condemnation are so high," Fortune commented.
|The use of the weapon has become so stigmatized states fear using it, because the levels of international condemnation are so high|
The US stopped exports of the weapon in 2009.
The last known use of cluster munitions was in the 2008 conflict between Russia and the former Soviet satellite state of Georgia, known as the South Ossetia War. Georgia was compelled to renounce the use of the weapon during the war in response to an international outcry over its deployment, Fortune said.
The United Kingdom, which has been both a producer and user of cluster munitions, has signed the convention and is in the process of ratifying it. Fortune said such countries could influence opinion among their military allies.
One of the tests of the convention will be the assistance provided by states to survivors and communities affected by cluster munitions. The 10-year review conference of the MBT, in the Colombian port city of Cartagena in December 2009, viewed this as weakest link in the first 10 years of the landmine treaty.
Fortune noted that "Since the very beginning of the [cluster ban] negotiations, people affected [survivors of cluster bomb accidents and communities] have been involved the process" to ensure the treaty would provide assistance to them.
He said victim assistance was expected to be a main focus at the First Meeting of States Parties to the CCM in Laos in November 2010. The country is reputedly the world's most contaminated state.
According to the Mines Advisory Group, an NGO involved in mine clearance and advocacy for survivors, an estimated 260 million submunitions were scattered across Laos in the 1960s and '70s, and as many as 80 million unexploded bomblets remain in the mainly agricultural country.
The first 30 countries to ratify the convention
Albania (16 June 2009), Austria (2 April 2009), Belgium (22 December 2009), Burkina Faso (16 February 2010), Burundi (25 September 2009), Croatia (17 August 2009), Denmark (12 February 2010), The Vatican (3 December 2008), France (25 September 2009), Germany (8 July 2009), Ireland (3 December 2008), Japan (14 July 2009), Lao PDR (18 March 2009), Luxembourg (10 July 2009), Macedonia (8 October 2009), Malawi (7 October 2009), Malta (24 September 2009), Mexico (6 May 2009), Moldova (16 February 2010), Montenegro (25 January 2010), New Zealand (22 December 2009), Nicaragua (6 November 2009), Niger (2 June 2009), Norway (3 December 2008), San Marino (10 July 2009), Sierra Leone (3 December 2008), Slovenia (19 August 2009), Spain (17 June 2009), Uruguay (24 September 2009), Zambia (12 August 2009). Source CMC
The following 104 countries have signed the convention
Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, DR Congo, Republic of Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Côte D'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Haiti, The Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar , Malawi, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tomé and Principe, St Vincent and Grenadines, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Zambia. Source CMC