Disarmament Insight


Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Cluster Munitions: The Road from Lima

Disarmament Insight note – although the world's biggest producers of cluster munitions - the United States, Russia and China - are still not among them, delegates from 68 countries met late last week in the Peruvian capital, Lima, to broaden support for a declaration agreed to in Norway in February calling for a ban on cluster bombs by 2008. More than a third joined the process for the first time, having missed the Oslo meeting. The post below from our guest blogger Jamie Stocker reports on the final day of the Lima Conference and offers some concluding thoughts.

Many predicted issues about how to define key terms for an international humanitarian instrument on cluster munitions to be the most contentious for the Lima Conference. With these rescheduled from Friday morning to Thursday (see previous posts) and now out of the way, the final day of the Lima Conference was more relaxed in tone, with transparency, compliance and procedural issues scheduled for talks before the closing ceremony.

Most delegates agreed that the transparency measures developed for the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention should generally be taken as a model for a cluster munitions treaty (although it was noted that certain improvements could be made). The NGO Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) made several suggestions in this regard, such as provisions requiring national reports to be made public. It also suggested that states consider making the disclosure of information regarding past use of cluster munitions mandatory, if it would help with ongoing clearance efforts.

Compliance measures were also discussed, including domestic penal sanctions for treaty violations. Talks also covered the number of accessions by states for any treaty agreed to enter into force internationally. The Mine Ban Convention required 40 signatures, while the fifth protocol of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) on explosive remnants of war required only 20. NGOs, predictably, pushed for a low threshold – of 20 – but others, such as the Netherlands, questioned this.

Other issues will also have an impact on the effectiveness of any treaty on cluster munitions. One challenge will be in determining how to coordinate humanitarian efforts to deal with cluster munitions, mines, and other explosive remnants or war: because there are three different treaties dealing with these related subjects doesn’t necessarily mean that there need to be three different forums and institutions to address these problems.

This withstanding, some aspects of any treaty on cluster munitions, notably clearance and international assistance, will need to be coordinated in order to ensure that resources are devoted to the most pressing needs on the ground. This same logic extends to a variety of other areas of the treaty, including the need for regular meetings.

In this regard, many delegates observed how useful an implementation and support unit for the Mine Ban Convention has been, and it’s likely that this kind of unit would be useful for implementing a future cluster munition treaty. But aspects of its work would be quite different in the case of cluster munitions. Among other areas, different information on stockpiles, destruction and other areas of implementation will be required. Further thinking seems to be needed here, not least as work in the Oslo Process evolves and the requirements of an international humanitarian instrument to deal with the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions becomes clearer.

So what does it all mean?

Most delegates at Lima I spoke with came away from the Conference with the impression it was a success. Not only had a variety of issues been discussed in a productive manner, virtually all states there expressed commitment to reaching a treaty in one multilateral configuration or another (Oslo Process and/or the CCW).

It feels like a long time until early December and the next round of the work of the Oslo Process in Vienna. In the meantime, there are a few days of CCW experts’ talks in Geneva in June and its Meeting of States Parties in November. It is unclear what progress the CCW will make, although some states in that forum are pushing for a negotiating mandate on cluster munitions.

At Lima, some of these same states – who are in favour of more limited restrictions on cluster munitions – largely avoided engaging in substantial debate about the shortcomings of submunition self-destruct mechanisms and the testing of failure rates, which are nevertheless key elements of the rationales behind their postures.

The hope expressed by some in the Oslo Process is that the International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC) Montreux Expert Meeting report due to be released shortly will prompt more direct engagement (John Borrie attended Montreux: see his post of 24 April for more details). Indeed, in the last minutes of the Lima Conference, the ICRC noted that the burden of proof is shifting to those who defend these technical approaches to show that those proposals are capable of addressing the humanitarian impacts cluster munitions cause.

Meanwhile, the Oslo process won’t stand still. At Lima, states announced initiatives to hold regional meetings in Latin America, Africa and possibly Eastern Europe. Peru announced that it would work towards a regional cluster munition-free zone. Hungary received a round of applause from NGOs and others on Wednesday when it announced that it would destroy its existing stockpiles of cluster munitions soon, demonstrating the ongoing value of national action from individual states. New Zealand announced it will host a round of the Oslo Process in Wellington from 18 to 22 February 2008.

Disarmament Insight will continue to follow these issues, so check in regularly.

This is a guest blog from James Stocker. Jamie is a researcher on UNIDIR’s project on “The humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions: practitioners’ perspectives”.


For more information about the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, visit the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining's Implementation Support Unit website.

The ICRC expects to have its summary report of the Montreux meeting available in early June. It can be downloaded from the ICRC website.

Photo retrieved from Human Rights Watch,© 2006 UN Mine Action Coordination Center for southern Lebanon.