Disarmament Insight


Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Cluster munitions: eradicating a deadly legacy

Later today, the United Nations is hosting its second Special Event on the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) at its Headquarters in New York. Apparently, the event is being webcast in real time (at www.conflictvoice.org) from around 13h15 New York time.

The UN envisages the event, like last year's, to be an opportunity for States to come and sign and ratify the CCM, as well as express support for Lao PDR, which has agreed to host the First Meeting of States Parties of the CCM.

In view of the swift rate of accession to the treaty, this First Meeting of States Parties is expected to be held sometime in 2010. (Article 17 of the CCM states that it "shall enter into force on the first day of the sixth month after the month in which the thirtieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession has been deposited.") Already, 100 governments have signed the CCM and 23 have acceded to it, bringing the treaty within seven ratifications of the golden thirty. This is good going by the standards of multilateral treaties.

The CCM Special Event isn't the only activity concerning the CCM in New York. At present, diplomats from Geneva, New York and many capitals are participating in the annual UN General Assembly's First Committee on disarmament-related matters, which runs throughout October. Ireland and Lao PDR are lead co-sponsors of a First Committee resolution on the CCM on which all States will, in principle, vote. According to the Cluster Munition Coalition:

Last year, Ireland introduced a resolution on the Convention on Cluster Munitions that was adopted by consensus (it did not go to vote). The 2008 resolution was procedural and requested the UN Secretary General to fulfil functions assigned to him under the CCM. This year Ireland and Lao PDR will co-sponsor a resolution which is expected to be similar to last year’s resolution but will additionally have a specific reference to offer by the Lao PDR to host the First Meeting of States Parties.

Lao's leadership role on CCM-related matters is significant. Lao PDR is the world's most severely affected country from the post-conflict effects of explosive submunitions dropped during the South East Asia War of the 1960s and 1970s. It's support for the CCM is an extension of its view that the new Convention is an effective means to tackle these effects - not only in Lao PDR, but in other affected places around the world.

Laos was a prominent and early signer of the CCM at the treaty's signing ceremony in Oslo in December 2008, its Deputy Prime Minister, Thongloun Sisloulith, remarking that:

Here, in Norway and in other countries of Western Europe, after the Second World War, peoples have been able to fully enjoy peace and devote their efforts and capabilities to the development of their countries, and children can enjoy their basic rights to life and safe

environment, in which to develop, learn and play; while in the Lao [People’s Democratic Republic], although the war ended more than thirty years ago, the Lao people continue to bear its legacy and the Lao children are denied the basic rights to which they are entitled.

Against this backdrop, the signing of this Convention is already one step forward to its realization, but at the same time, it is just the beginning of our journey to the ultimate goal of eradicating the scourge of cluster munitions and liberating the people and our children from fear and threat of such silent killer.

Bringing the treaty into force internationally is another step in that journey. Hopefully today's special event in New York acts as a spur to more States to join and begin implementing the CCM.

John Borrie


Last year's First Committee resolution text on the CCM is here.

The civil society project 'Reaching Critical Will' publishes monitoring reports on the First Committee online here.

Image from Wikipedia depicting a map of the Ho Chi Minh Trail traversing Southern Laos in 1967. American and allied forces bombed Lao heavily to try to interdict supplies moving along this trail toward North Vietnam, including with millions of cluster submunitions.