The UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)’s Group of Governmental Experts began a four-day meeting today, the latest – and perhaps the last – in its efforts to negotiate a protocol on cluster munitions.
When the last CCW Meeting of States Parties wrapped up late last year it had not been able to produce an agreement. Two-third of the CCW’s membership were about to sign the new Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in Oslo, and concerns were widespread and deeply felt that the CCW product being touted by Denmark, the GGE’s Chair at the time, would deliver too little humanitarian benefit, and would conflict with the CCM’s obligations to ban the weapon and help victims. They dug in, much to the chagrin of CCW members shunning the CCM and unhappy at being depicted as international bad guys in the media and by civil society.
So, the compromise achieved was for two more short GGE sessions in early 2009 to see what could be salvaged. Argentina took over from Denmark as GGE Chair, and we reported in February that the new Chairman had made some progress – although the differences between the ambitions of major possessors and producers shunning the CCM (like Brazil, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States) for a cluster munition protocol still seemed very different from the higher humanitarian standard others expected. The European Union, for instance, has repeatedly stated that any new protocol should deliver measurable humanitarian benefit, be compatible with the obligations of the CCM, and must contain some sort of substantive prohibition, whether on use, transfer or some other aspect of cluster munitions.
In this morning’s general debate to start off the four days of GGE meetings this week, there seemed little new of note. Argentina’s “consolidated Chair’s text” distributed at the end of the February meeting was generally accepted as a basis for work, although most countries also raised problems about key Articles such as its definitions, how the protocol’s obligations would sit with existing international humanitarian law obligations, the nature of its prohibitions, and derivative questions related to stockpile destruction such as transition periods.
None of these issues are new, although many delegations speaking today seemed keen to sound as constructive as possible. Even so, it is difficult to see how a protocol agreeable by consensus could be agreed in the space of four days: the International Committee of the Red Cross has pointed out in detail a number of serious problems remaining in the text, which many Europeans and others agree with, for instance, and which others will resist.
That said, while the GGE mandate for meetings (which cost money, and therefore need the CCW Meetings of States Parties to okay them) effectively runs out at the week, it doesn’t necessarily mean negotiations will end. There is nothing to stop Argentina continuing bilateral and small group consultations with a view to having a final draft to offer to the next CCW Meeting of States Parties later this year. That is what I suspect it will do.
Photo by author of battle area clearer searching for unexploded submunitions. From a photograph in an exhibition in the Esplanade des Nations (outside the CCW's meetings in the Palais), taken in November 2007.