Disarmament Insight


Friday, 26 October 2007

The ICRC and cluster munitions: Great Expectations

Yesterday, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Dr. Jakob Kellenberger, briefed Geneva-based diplomatic Missions and others on his humanitarian organisation's expectations for international efforts to tackle the effects of cluster munitions on civilians.

Briefly, by way of background, rumours are afoot that the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) may, after years of inertia, actually achieve a procedural negotiating mandate on cluster munitions at its next Meeting of States Parties this November. The catalyst for this has been the emergence of a new, free-standing international Oslo Process of at least 80 - perhaps by now 90 - states. The Oslo Process is avowedly ambitious in humanitarian terms. Miraculously, fears that small and medium-sized countries (many of them in the developing world) are "doing an Ottawa" - in reference to the achievement of the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention - have resulted in new flexibility among some big user and producer states in the CCW.

The ICRC was at the forefront of the Ottawa Process more than a decade ago. It has voiced its long-standing concerns about the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions in the CCW and elsewhere too, and did much initial legwork in the face of widespread state apathy and even resistance to putting cluster munitions squarely on the international agenda. But substantial progress in international campaigning on cluster munitions has recently been made. This, and an updated UN position has led some to wonder what it all means for the ICRC's well-established posture.

Hence Dr. Kellenberger's briefing, which - without changing the ICRC's position an iota - set out specific "parameters" it is looking for in any negotiation on cluster munitions. Kellenberger added:

"States now face an important choice. Those which have not already done so can commit themselves to the urgent negotiation of a legally binding instrument which will prevent the endless repetition of the familiar pattern of civilian casualties and the slow, dangerous and often under-funded clearance efforts which occurs when inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions are used. The growing awareness of the urgency of this issue and the many new commitments made by States in this field over the past year provide hope that an increasingly severe humanitarian problem in the coming years and decades can be prevented. Such opportunities to prevent untold human suffering do not occur often. The ICRC calls on political leaders and decision makers in all States to make the choices which will provide the strongest possible protection to civilian populations."

John Borrie


ICRC President's statement at the briefing on cluster munitions.

Photo courtesy of the author. At left is Philip Spoerri (ICRC Director for International Law & Cooperation within the Movement), ICRC President Dr. Jakob Kellenberger is middle, and Peter Herby, head of the ICRC’s Arms Unit is right.