Disarmament Insight


Friday, 29 May 2009

On this day…change can happen !

29 May is a memorable date indeed. On this day, in 1953, two men for the first time reached the summit of Mount Everest and conquered the top of the World. Similar feelings of exhilaration and relief (and also of exhaustion) prevailed on that same day, in 2008, when 107 States adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in Dublin – a treaty that outlaws virtually all cluster munitions that have been used to date, provides for assistance to victims, the clearance of contaminated land, and the destruction of existing stockpiles.

Today’s launch of the report ‘Banning Cluster Munitions – Government Policy and Practice’ marks the first anniversary of the CCM’s adoption and the beginning of the Global Week of Action on Cluster munitions. The 288 pages long report was written by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in partnership with Landmine Action and produced by Landmine Monitor. Compiled in record time, the report gives an introduction to cluster munitions, the ‘Oslo Process on Cluster Munitions’ and to the CCM itself. It provides up-to-date figures on cluster munitions use, production, stockpiling, transfer and disinvestment in cluster munitions manufacturers. And, most importantly, it documents government statements, parliamentary actions and civil society initiatives on cluster munitions in 150 States, that is, all States that took part in the ‘Oslo Process', and all States that are known to stockpile cluster munitions today.

‘Change can happen!’ exclaimed the representative of HRW at today's launch event. The report provides a historical record of how numerous States’ policies and practices on cluster munitions have changed over the course of the last few years. To date, 96 States have signed the CCM, of which 35 have at some stage in the past used, produced, stockpiled or transferred cluster munitions. And 7 States have already ratified treaty. Several more have indicated that they would deposit their instrument of ratification shortly, so that the treaty can be expected to enter into force in 2010.

Importantly, as the report notes, policy shifts also took place in States not involved in the ‘Oslo Process’. The U.S., for instance, has recently enacted a permanent ban on cluster munitions exports. Such practices also contribute to the stigmatization of cluster munitions as weapons that are unacceptable because of their negative humanitarian impacts.

The report will also serve as a baseline for the future implementation of the CCM by State Parties. Remarkably, Spain has already destroyed all of its cluster munitions stockpiles, even prior to the treaty’s entry into force. This bodes well for the effective translation of treaty obligations into concrete national implementation measures, and several other States are expected to destroy their stockpiles in the course of 2009. In support of the timely implementation of this particular treaty obligation Germany will host a Conference on the destruction of cluster munitions stockpiles in Berlin next month.

Change also happened elsewhere in Geneva today: after a decade-long struggle, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) finally adopted a Programme of Work! Some diplomats already suspect they will soon remember with fondness the days of fruitless discussions and blockage in the CD in view of the daunting negotiations that lie ahead of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons - the only negotiation mandate included in the Programme of Work.

But the adoption of the CD's Programme of Work is a major breakthrough, and after an exhausting week for the Geneva disarmament community, with the Mine Ban Treaty Standing Committee Meetings and the CD going on at the same time, those diplomats who drew the short straw and had to go to the CD were rewarded this time, taking part in an historic event.

Maya Brehm

Photo Credit: Alfred Gregory, May 28, 1953 [Copyright National Geographic Society]

References: 'Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice' by HRW, Landmine Action et al., May 2009.