"I really enjoyed the last phone conference. For those of us who support ACA but do not work in this field, these phone conferences are very educational."

– Maura Davenport
December 12, 2017
Cluster Munitions

Information about cluster munitions.

States Denounce Cluster Munitions Use

Reports from Ukraine, Yemen, and other countries with civil conflicts prompted parties to the 2010 global ban on deadly explosives to condemn their use.

October 2015

By Jefferson Morley

A man in the northern Syrian town of Taftanaz grasps a cluster bomb casing on November 9, 2012. (Photo credit: Philippe Desmazes /AFP/Getty Images)In response to reports of cluster munition attacks in conflicts around the world, scores of countries supporting the global ban on the explosive weapons categorically condemned their use in a declaration issued Sept. 11 in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

“We are deeply concerned by any and all allegations, reports or documented evidence of the use of cluster munitions, including in Cambodia, Libya, Myanmar, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine and Yemen,” said the parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). “We condemn any use of cluster munitions by any actor.”

The 95 states-parties to the CCM, along with 23 signatory nations and numerous civil society groups, met Sept. 7-11 to review and assess the accomplishments of the treaty. The Dubrovnik meeting was the first review conference under the treaty, which entered into force on August 1, 2010. The CCM bans the possession and use of munitions that eject explosive bomblets designed to kill people and destroy vehicles.        

For advocates of a cluster munitions ban, the consensus declaration threw a spotlight on the policy of the U.S. government, which is destroying its cluster munitions stockpiles but has not renounced their use. The United States, which has not signed the CCM, is currently supporting the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, where Human Rights Watch has documented the repeated use of U.S.-manufactured cluster munitions. “Although the evidence is not definitive, several factors indicate that the Saudi-led coalition carried out the seven attacks,” the nongovernmental group stated in an Aug. 26 report. The attacks involving U.S.-made munitions have killed or wounded “dozens of civilians” since April, according to the group.

Representatives of Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom—all U.S. military allies—asked for modification of the declaration’s categorical condemnation of all cluster munitions use. The wording, Canada said, “poses problems for States Parties who undertake military cooperation and operations with non-Parties, which the Convention permits us to do.” Article 21 of the CCM states that parties to the treaty “may engage in military cooperation and operations with States not party to this Convention that might engage in activities prohibited to a State Party.”

“The proposed changes also seem driven by a desire to create space—political and legal space—for the United States to use cluster munitions in the future,” said a Sept. 8 statement from Human Rights Watch on behalf of the Cluster Munition Coalition..

Thomas Nash of Article 36, a UK nongovernmental organization, said the “bizarre and isolated legal contortions by the UK, together with Australia and Canada, were hopelessly out of step with the mood and determination of the Review Conference to prevent any further use of cluster munitions by any actor.”

After the three countries and Lithuania expressed concerns, the unmodified declaration was approved by acclamation.

Signs of Progress

Many representatives of the 117 countries that have signed or ratified the CCM hailed the treaty for exceeding expectations born on its entry into force five years ago.

“Eighty percent of reported cluster munition stockpiles have already been destroyed,” Steffen Kongstad of Norway said, with “most states-parties achieving their targets much faster and at a significantly lower cost than some experts kept insisting on some years ago.”

Ambassador Jorge Lomónaco of Mexico congratulated Canada, Guinea, Guyana, Iceland, Palestine, Paraguay, Rwanda, Slovakia, and South Africa for joining the CCM in the past year. Their accession, he said, demonstrated “the vitality and strength of the regime that prohibits the use of these indiscriminate and inhuman weapons.”

Rodolfo Benítez Verson, chief of the Cuban delegation to the conference, announced Sept. 8 that his government was taking steps to join the treaty “shortly.”

“Today I can inform this Conference that Cuba is carrying out the required constitutional procedures for the accession of our country to the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” Benítez Verson said to applause.

The change comes as Washington and Havana are seeking to normalize long-frozen diplomatic relations. In past years, Cuba had declined to join the cluster munitions ban because it does not forbid U.S.-made munitions that are equipped with self-destruction and self-deactivation mechanisms, an exception that Havana said favored developed countries at the expense of poorer countries. In Dubrovnik, Benítez Verson repeated Cuban concerns about the “dangerous” language of the treaty’s Article 21, which permits CCM parties to the treaty to engage in military operations with countries that are not parties. He said Cuba will continue to press its views when it becomes a state-party to the treaty.

Work to Do

Nguyen Trung Thanh of Vietnam, attending as an observer, said his country could not afford to take on the treaty’s obligations, although Vietnam is one of the countries most contaminated with cluster munitions.

“In the best scenario,” he said, the job of clearing the munitions from 6.6 million hectares (16 million acres) of contaminated Vietnamese land and then destroying the weapons would require “more than a hundred years” and “many billions of dollars.”

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican representative to the United Nations, called on CCM parties “to find a fair and equitable model” to fund the treaty’s implementation.

Correction: The original online version of this article erroneously attributed a quotation to the Cluster Munition Monitor. The source of the quotation is a Sept. 8 statement from Human Rights Watch on behalf of the Cluster Munition Coalition.

Cluster Munitions Use in Yemen Reported

Reports of cluster munitions use in the conflict in Yemen remain under investigation, according to the U.S. State Department. 

July/August 2015

By Jefferson Morley

Pictured above are remnants of an air-dropped cluster munition and unexploded BLU-97 submunitions found in northern Yemen on May 23, according to Human Rights Watch.(© 2015 Basset al-Sharafi)Reports of cluster munitions use in the conflict in Yemen remain under investigation, according to the U.S. State Department. 

Two cluster munitions attacks in Yemen injured seven people, six of them civilians, according to a May 31 report by Human Rights Watch. The attacks took place in areas held by Houthi insurgents, whose ouster of the Yemeni government triggered a military campaign by a coalition of armed forces led by neighboring Saudi Arabia, according to Human Rights Watch.

“We take all such allegations seriously and we’re continuing our review of the claims made in this report,” a State Department official said in a June 19 e-mail. Asked if the U.S. government had communicated these concerns to Saudi Arabia, the official said the United States “remain[s] in close coordination” with the Saudis “on a wide range of issues.”

In a June 8 e-mail, Ole Solvang, an investigator for Human Rights Watch, emphasized that the fighting in Yemen made it difficult to determine who was responsible for the use of cluster munitions. Although the group has “a very incomplete picture,” what it has seen “is quite worrying,” Solvang said. Human Rights Watch has documented the use of three types of cluster munitions, he said. 

U.S.-made cluster munitions, containing BLU-97 submunitions, were used in at least two attacks on May 23, according to reports cited by Human Rights Watch.

On the basis of photographs, the group identified one of the weapons used in an April 29 attack near the Saudi border as a type of ground-fired cluster munition containing “ZP-39” submunitions with a distinctive red ribbon. The ZP-39’s producer and the delivery system used are not publicly known, according to Human Rights Watch.

On April 27, aircraft of the Saudi-led coalition dropped a U.S.-made cluster munition, the CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon, on a village south of the Houthi stronghold of Saada, said Human Rights Watch, citing the reports it had received.

Saudi Arabia and Yemen, like the United States, are not signatories to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, the international treaty banning the weapons. The treaty has been ratified by 92 countries and signed by 24 more.

Cluster Munitions Plague Ukraine, Syria

Watchdog groups say governments in Damascus and Kiev are using indiscriminate explosives against rebels and that most of the victims are civilians.

November 2014

By Jefferson Morley

The use of cluster munitions has spread to battlefields in Ukraine and Syria, according to groups seeking to ban the weapon.

In a report released Oct. 20, Human Rights Watch documented the use of cluster munitions in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels in more than a dozen urban and rural locations. “While it was not possible to conclusively determine responsibility for many of the attacks,” the report said, “the evidence points to Ukrainian government forces’ responsibility for several cluster munition attacks on Donetsk,” the largest city in eastern Ukraine.

In 12 incidents, Human Rights Watch said cluster munitions killed at least six people and injured dozens. The group’s investigators and a reporter from The New York Times found evidence in early October of Russian-made, surface-fired 220-millimeter Uragan (Hurricane) and 300-millimeter Smerch (Tornado) cluster munition rockets.

A man passes by the remains of an Uragan rocket lying in front of a burning house in Donetsk, Ukraine, on October 5. Uragan rockets can be used to deliver cluster munitions. (John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images)The Ukrainian government denied responsibility. “The Ukrainian military did not use weapons prohibited by international law; this applies to cluster munitions as well,” a spokesman said Oct. 21, according to RIA-Novosti.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitors the Ukraine conflict zone, said it had received no evidence that government troops had used cluster bombs, according to an Oct. 22 Reuters report.

Cluster munitions are rockets or bombs that contain dozens or hundreds of smaller munitions. After launch, the container for these submunitions disperses them over a wide area. The submunitions, while designed to explode when they hit the ground, often fail to do so, remaining explosive and dangerous to anyone who touches them.

The Kiev government has not acceded to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), joined by 114 countries. The treaty bans the use of cluster munitions because of the danger they pose to civilian noncombatants.

In Syria, the government’s cluster munitions have killed at least 1,600 people in the past two years, by far the deadliest use of the weapon in a decade, according to the annual report of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC), issued in August. Of the reported victims, 97 percent were civilians. Syria is not a party to the CCM.

Syrian forces exploded at least 249 cluster munitions, covering 10 of Syria’s 14 provinces, according to the ICBL-CMC report. The groups found that at least seven types of Russian- and Egyptian-made cluster munitions have been used in Syria, including air-dropped bombs, dispensers fixed to aircraft, and ground-launched rockets, as well as at least nine types of explosive submunitions.

Not since the U.S.-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 have dispersed small explosives injured or killed so many people. According to a 2003 Human Rights Watch report, the invading forces used nearly 13,000 cluster munitions, containing an estimated 1.8 million submunitions, in three weeks of major combat. UNICEF estimated that more than 1,000 children in Iraq were killed or injured by U.S.-made cluster munitions in 2003.

The ICBL-CMC report also noted the use of cluster munitions in Ukraine last year, but said its researchers could not determine whether the Ukrainian government or the rebels were responsible.

The use of cluster munitions in Syria and Ukraine “will only prolong the humanitarian consequences of these devastating conflicts in the years to come, with very little, if any, military benefits,” said André Sobral Cordeiro of the Portuguese Foreign Ministry at the annual meeting of CCM parties in San José, Costa Rica, in September.

Twenty-five countries condemned Syria at the meeting, while another 17 countries condemned the recent use of cluster munitions but did not cite Syria by name.

The use of cluster munitions in Syria and Ukraine has not yet reached the level of use in Laos and Lebanon, the two countries in the world most contaminated by the weapons.

Laos remains by far the world’s most contaminated state as a result of the U.S. military dropping more than 270 million submunitions on the country between 1964 and 1973. Lebanon is second, primarily as a result of Israel’s war against the Shiite militia Hezbollah in July-August 2006, when Israeli forces used as many as 4 million submunitions.

Eleven people have been killed and 31 injured by cluster munitions in Lebanon since 2006, according to a report issued by the Mine Advisory Group, a UK organization that seeks to ban landmines and cluster munitions.

Casualties have been reported in Laos, but researchers say there are no reliable tallies of the numbers.
Laos and Lebanon, which are parties to the CCM, also did the most to dismantle and destroy the weapons in 2013, according to the ICBL-CMC report. Together, the two countries accounted for 82 percent of the submunitions destroyed worldwide in 2013 and 72 percent of the land cleared.

U.S. Pledge Not to Produce Landmines Positive, But Falls Short: It Is Time to Accede to Mine Ban Treaty

Statement of Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director Today, on the final day of the Third Review Conference of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty in Maputo, Mozambique, the United States formally announced that it will not produce or acquire any new anti-personnel land mines and will not replace the existing U.S. stockpile of landmines. The statement from U.S. Ambassador Griffiths from the U.S. Embassy in Maputo also states that "...we are diligently pursuing other solutions that would be compliant with the Convention and that would ultimately allow us to accede to the Convention." The U.S. statement from...

Cluster Munitions Protocol Fails

Unable to bridge their differences over a cluster munitions protocol, states-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) did not adopt the controversial provision and ended their Nov. 14-25 review conference badly divided over it.

Farrah Zughni

Unable to bridge their differences over a cluster munitions protocol, states-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) did not adopt the controversial provision and ended their Nov. 14-25 review conference badly divided over it.

At the Geneva conference, states that produce cluster bombs were willing to agree to some new restrictions on use of the weapons but argued that the bombs still serve important military purposes, while nonproducers cited humanitarian concerns in pushing for broader restrictions.

The opportunity to pass the proposal, which would affect the world’s largest producers of the weapons, is unlikely to re-emerge for years to come, according to sources involved in the debate. More than 50 of the CCW’s 114 parties voiced opposition to the proposal on the last day of the conference. The 1980 treaty, which limits the use of conventional weapons “deemed to be excessively injurious or have indiscriminate effects,” requires consensus on any additions to the treaty; a new protocol is binding only on countries that ratify it.

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, or artillery shells that disperse smaller submunitions over broad areas. Some of these submunitions fail to explode on impact and pose a risk to civilians decades after they are deployed.

A draft protocol, submitted by the chair of the review conference’s preparatory sessions, Jesus S. Domingo of the Philippines, served as the basis for negotiations. (See ACT, October 2011.) Several revised versions of the text were issued by Eric Danon of France, who led one of the conference’s main committees. The final text would have prohibited the use, development, production, acquisition, and retention of cluster bombs produced prior to Jan. 1, 1980, and set restrictions on cluster munitions manufactured on or after that date.

The draft received at least tacit support from most major cluster munitions producers, including China, India, Israel, Russia, and South Korea. The United States, a leading producer, strongly backed the measure and said it was “deeply disappointed” by the review conference’s outcome.

The cluster munitions protocol offered “the only chance of bringing the world’s major cluster munitions users and producers…into a legally binding set of prohibitions and regulations,” said Phillip Spector, the head of the U.S. delegation to the CCW, in a Nov 14. opening statement.

Spector said the protocol’s ban on cluster munitions made prior to 1980 alone would prohibit the use of more than 2 million such weapons in the U.S. stockpile. Russia and Ukraine also announced that the 1980 rule would prohibit the use of large amounts of their stocks.

According to a July 2008 Department of Defense press release following the most recent update of U.S. policy on the issue, the United States views cluster munitions as “legitimate weapons with clear military utility in combat…[that] provide distinct advantages against a range of targets…[and] reduce unintended harm to civilians during combat, by producing less collateral damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure” than weapons that do not contain submunitions.

Consensus over the protocol, even among producers, remained uncertain throughout the negotiation process. In a Nov. 15 statement, Pakistan, a producer of cluster bombs, objected to the 1980 cutoff, calling it an “arbitrary” deadline that was “discriminatory in nature.” India also expressed some reservations with the text.

The most significant opposition to the chair’s text came from a number of nonproducing countries that are signatories to the most comprehensive international treaty on cluster bombs―the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). The International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and many international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also criticized the chair’s text at the review conference. The CCM prohibits a much wider array of cluster munitions than the CCW. Major producers of cluster munitions have not signed the CCM, but are party to the CCW.

Fundamental Differences

Negotiations over the protocol “failed ultimately because two fundamentally different concepts on how the [cluster munitions] issue should be addressed could not be reconciled,” Alexander Kmentt, director of arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation at the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, said in a Nov. 25 e-mail to Arms Control Today. “One is the CCM focus on victims and the effects of [cluster munitions], and the other is a security policy and arms control focus that was the foundation of the draft by the chair.”

Although parties opposed to the chair’s text welcomed the provision requiring destruction of producers’ older stockpiles, they objected to language permitting newer models of cluster bombs, currently in use, which are prohibited by the CCM.

“This is a matter of lives, limbs, and principles,” Steffen Kongstad, the head of the Norwegian delegation, said Nov. 14. “We cannot support a new protocol on cluster munitions in the CCW that in fact perpetuate[s], rather than prevent[s], the civilian suffering caused by cluster munitions.”

“Humanitarian values basically overcame a process that was designed to achieve just the opposite,” Juan José Gómez Camacho, Mexico’s ambassador to the UN office in Geneva, said of the outcome during a phone interview shortly after the conference ended.

During a Nov. 16 press briefing, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Rule of Law and Detainee Policy William Lietzau argued that the CCM does not, in fact, ban all cluster munitions, citing as examples the German SMArt 155 and the French/Swedish BONUS. In a Nov. 21 interview, Stephen Greene, vice president of communications at Textron Systems, made a similar point. U.S.-based Textron produces the CBU-97 cluster bomb.

A few CCM states, including Australia and Germany, expressed willingness to work with the chair’s text even though its requirements fell short of the CCM.

Opponents of the chair’s text said they never consented to the draft as a basis for negotiation, let alone a final protocol, and maintained that their objections were ignored for years during the negotiating process.

The chair’s text appears to be “a non-negotiated and static text that through several meetings…has not been changed according to the many concerns and suggestions that have been presented,” said Kongstad. “This is not an acceptable way of negotiating.’”

After repeated attempts in preliminary sessions to have their concerns incorporated in the text, Austria, Mexico, and Norway submitted an alternative draft protocol on July 20. The alternative proposal lacks many of the legally binding aspects of the chair’s text and does not contain a definition of cluster munitions. Its proponents claim such ambiguity is necessary to accommodate otherwise irreconcilable views.

Some countries referred to this draft during the review conference, but the alternative protocol itself was not actively debated in the forum. Still, despite several revisions submitted by Danon and a last-minute amendment proposed by the U.S. delegation, opponents maintained that their objections continued to be ignored.

“Only a limited number of High Contracting Parties and observer States have had their views and concerns reflected in this text,” said the Costa Rican delegation in a Nov. 23 statement. “It can thus come as no surprise that the text does not enjoy agreement of all High Contracting Parties and does not command the consensus of this room.”

Pre-1980 Munitions

Many CCM parties found the text’s 1980 deadline objectionable on the grounds that it reflected no improvement in terms of the weapons’ indiscriminate effects.

During his speech to the forum, Kongstad said that findings from UN field organizations and international NGOs showed that 90 percent of cluster munitions victims were civilians, “regardless of the production year of the weapon.”

Responding to Spector’s assertion that the 1980 deadline would remove millions of munitions and that this action alone would have a humanitarian impact, a diplomatic source from a CCM state said in a Nov. 16 interview that “[t]he humanitarian argument only works if you have an actual intention of using these weapons,” which the source said was a doubtful prospect given their age.

In exchange for the offer, the draft protocol asked CCM states-parties for a “seal of approval for continued use” of cluster munitions, Kmentt said in the Nov. 25 e-mail.

Several meeting participants and observers noted that U.S. policy already is in compliance with or, in some cases, exceeds requirements in the chair’s text. The 2008 Defense Department policy prohibits the use of cluster munitions with a failure rate higher than 1 percent after 2018. Prior to the deadline, use of cluster bombs with a higher failure rate must be approved by a combat commander; a similar stipulation is made in the chair’s text.

Under an appropriations act signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 15, 2009, the United States no longer provides military assistance, sales, or technology transfers involving cluster munitions unless the weapons have a failure rate of less than 1 percent and the recipient agrees not to deploy the weapons “where civilians are known to be present.”

In a Nov. 1 letter, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) urged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to resist pressure to accept the alternative protocol. The senators said the CCM employed “arbitrary” and “unscientific” metrics in distinguishing permitted weapons from prohibited ones. Kyl and Lugar also defended the 1 percent-failure-rate standard, calling it “the most accurate measurement of humanitarian impact.”

Opponents of the chair’s text also took issue with its deferral clause, which allows countries to extend their use of post-1980 cluster munitions that do not meet safety requirements for an additional 12 years after ratification.

Cluster munitions producers, however, say that destruction of large quantities of munitions requires a great deal of money and time. The cost to producers of complying with the chair’s text would be “billions, not millions, of U.S. dollars,” Vladimir Yermakov, deputy head of the Russian delegation, said Nov. 14.

At the Nov. 16 press briefing, Lietzau defended the deferral clause as necessary to comply with the “very high standards” of the protocol. “[G]etting our munitions…and our operations to comply is something that you can’t just do with a switch,” he said.

In a Nov. 25 statement, the U.S. delegation said the country would “continue to implement its own voluntary policy” and encouraged other countries to take similar steps.

CCW Review Conference Fails to Reach Consensus on Weak Cluster Munitions Protocol

By Daryl G. Kimball Today in Geneva, delegations from over 100 nations ended a two week-long Review Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) without reaching agreement on a controversial proposal backed by the United States that would have legitimized the continued use of cluster munitions and undermined the existing 2008 Convention on Cluster Cluster Munitions (CCM). According to early reports on the tense final day of the meeting, the CCW did not adopt a mandate for further work on cluster munitions. For nearly a decade, the body has discussed how to regulate...

Too Little, Too Late: U.S. Pushing Weak Cluster Munitions Protocol in Geneva

De-miners working to eradicate an agricultural area in Lebanon of cluster munitions deployed by Israel in 2006. By Daryl G. Kimball This week, diplomats from 114 countries will gather in Geneva for the Fourth Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). The focus of the November 14-25 meeting will be a controversial draft protocol that would regulate the use of cluster munitions, a weapon already banned by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse smaller submunitions over broad areas that...

Letter to the Editor: Time to Step Up on Banning Cluster Munitions

It should come as no surprise that participants in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) failed to agree on a draft protocol on cluster munitions during a recent meeting in Geneva (“Cluster Bomb Protocol’s Status Uncertain,” October 2011).

Senator Dianne Feinstein

It should come as no surprise that participants in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) failed to agree on a draft protocol on cluster munitions during a recent meeting in Geneva (“Cluster Bomb Protocol’s Status Uncertain,” October 2011).

Since 2001, the parties to the CCW have been negotiating limits on the use of these deadly weapons, but they have consistently failed to come to any meaningful agreement. This failure is due in no small part to a lack of leadership from the United States, which continues to regard cluster munitions as “legitimate weapons with clear military utility in combat,” in the words of the June 2008 policy memorandum issued by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The U.S. position has given cover to other producers of cluster munitions, such as China and Russia, to block tougher international standards.

Cluster munitions—large bombs, rockets, or artillery shells that contain many smaller submunitions, or “bomblets”—are often used to attack enemy troop formations and armor covering a wide radius. Unfortunately, civilians are often the victims of their use.

Cluster bombs threaten civilians because they leave hundreds of unexploded bomblets, which often experience high failure rates, spread over wide areas. They are also notoriously inaccurate.

The human toll has been devastating:

• In Laos, approximately 11,000 people, 30 percent of them children, have been killed or injured by U.S. cluster munitions since the Vietnam War ended.

• In Afghanistan, between October 2001 and November 2002, 127 civilians lost their lives due to cluster munitions, 70 percent of them under the age of 18.

• An estimated 1,220 Kuwaitis and 400 Iraqi civilians have been killed by cluster munitions since 1991.

• In the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israeli cluster munitions, many manufactured in the United States, injured and killed 343 civilians.

The devastating effect of these weapons on civilians has compelled the international community and Congress to take action beyond the scope of the CCW.

In 2007, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law a provision prohibiting the sale and transfer of cluster bombs with a failure rate higher than 1 percent. The ban has been extended several times and remains in force.

In December 2008, 94 countries came together to sign the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions. Today, 111 nations have signed the treaty, and 66 have ratified it. The convention prohibits the production, use, and export of cluster bombs and requires signatories to eliminate their arsenals.

With an arsenal of more than 700 million bomblets, the United States did not participate in the Oslo process and refused to sign the treaty. It has preferred to work through the never-ending discussions at the CCW and take unilateral actions.

Gates’ 2008 memo stated that, after 2018, the use, sale, and transfer of cluster munitions with a failure rate higher than 1 percent would be prohibited. That policy moves us in the right direction, but it means the Pentagon still has authority to use cluster bombs with high failure rates for years to come.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and I have introduced the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act, which would impose an immediate ban on the use of cluster bombs with failure rates higher than 1 percent and restrict their use in civilian areas. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) has introduced the same legislation in the House.

It is time for the United States to join the international effort and take a leadership role in protecting innocent civilians and countless others from these deadly weapons.


Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.


Australian Cluster Bill Called Weak

The Australian Senate’s decision on legislation for ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions is expected soon. Nongovernmental organizations say the bill falls short of the treaty’s requirements.

Farrah Zughni

Legislation in the Australian Senate to approve the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), the most comprehensive international treaty on cluster bombs, is drawing criticism from political leaders and nongovernmental organizations for falling short of the treaty’s requirements.

The bill approaching Senate debate comes on the heels of a May 2 article in the Australian newspaper The Age citing WikiLeaks cables documenting how Australian officials secretly worked with the United States and other countries to weaken the CCM during its negotiations in 2008.

The Australian bill, which passed the country’s House of Representatives in November, prohibits the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions. “It will add to Australia’s strong legal framework against weapons that cause indiscriminate harm,” Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland said in a March 28 press release.

However, a number of organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, have submitted proposed amendments to the bill, which, they argue, does not uphold the spirit or the letter of the CCM. They criticize the extent to which Australia can engage in joint military operations and exercises with nonparties when such activities involve the stockpiling, storage, transfer, or use of cluster munitions. For example, under the legislation, military personnel of nonparties may stockpile and move cluster munitions on Australian territory.

“If passed, Australia’s legislation would be the weakest national legislation on cluster munitions to date,” Human Rights Watch senior researcher Bonnie Docherty said in a May 18 e-mail to Arms Control Today. Docherty, who is also a lecturer at HarvardLawSchool’s International Human Rights Clinic, testified March 3 at a hearing of the Senate Standing Commitee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

In her e-mail, she said the United Kingdom’s ratification legislation “has related provisions but includes some precautions.” Other countries, such as New Zealand and Norway, “make allowances for joint operations, but do not excuse assistance with [cluster munitions] use during such operations,” she said.

Earl Turcotte, the former senior coordinator for mine action at the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, issued a March 30 statement on the Australian prohibition bill, which, he argues, does not meet the convention’s requirements. Turcotte, who resigned in March to protest his country’s handling of its own cluster munitions ratification bill, led the Canadian delegation throughout the negotiation of the CCM.

The CCM language addressing military operations is in Article 21, known as the “interoperability” clause. The article explicitly states that parties “may engage in military cooperation and operations with States not party to this Convention that might engage in activities prohibited to a State Party.” During the treaty negotiation process, many U.S. allies pushed for this provision because Washington had made clear it would not support the emerging accord. (See ACT, July/August 2008.)

Such cooperation is restricted, although to what extent is heavily debated. According to Turcotte, states-parties may not, among other things, allow nonparty states to stockpile cluster munitions on their territory; invest in companies that develop, produce, transfer, or use cluster munitions; or “authorize or order, directly or indirectly, the use of cluster munitions by non-party state forces,” Turcotte said in his March 30 statement.

“We did not envision that this Article might be interpreted, rather misinterpreted, such that States Parties could deliberately and significantly aid and abet the use of these indiscriminate weapons,” he said.

In anticipation of Australian ratification of the CCM, Australia’s Future Fund, established in 2006 to cover pensions of Australia’s public servants, disinvested from 10 companies involved in production or sales of cluster munitions, including Lockheed Martin Corp. and General Dynamics Corp., according to a May 3 article in Bloomberg News. The $81.7 billion fund is independent of the Australian government.

The Future Fund board of guardians “will not invest in economic activities that are illegal in Australia or contravene conventions,” Will Hetherton, a fund spokesman told Bloomberg News.

Although advocates for a stronger cluster bill hailed the fund’s disinvestment, many say that the legislation’s language does not require disinvestment and that such an omission runs contrary to the CCM. (See ACT, December 2009.)

The proposed legislation is set to be debated in the Senate just weeks after The Age reported on WikiLeaks cables revealing that Australian officials told their U.S. counterparts in 2007 that the country would withdraw from negotiations on the CCM “unless a loophole was added to allow signatories to the convention to cooperate with military forces still using cluster bombs,” as the paper put it. The successful effort to do that produced the language at the center of the current dispute over the Australian bill.

The Age also reported that the WikiLeaks cables show that Australia covertly appealed to a number of Asian and African countries in an effort to win additional votes on several “hard-line” issues, including the military cooperation stipulation.

In a May 12 statement before the Senate, Sen. Scott Ludlam referred to the incident exposed in The Age as “an extraordinarily ugly episode in modern Australian history” and said the country’s cluster munitions bill was an “expression of those behind-the-scenes negotiations where Australia was effectively doing the dirty work” of the United States.

“The bill that the Senate will soon be debating allows the stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs. It permits our forces to violate the spirit and intent of the treaty if the act involving cluster bombs is carried out in the course of a joint exercise with a non-party to the treaty,” Ludlam said.

Attempts to contact Australian officials on the matter were unsuccessful.


Mine, Cluster Bomb Use Reported in Libya

There is evidence that the Libyan government has deployed both cluster munitions and landmines during recent clashes with rebels and that rebel groups have used landmines in the conflict despite pledges not to do so.

Xiaodon Liang and Farrah Zughni

Libyan pro-government forces fired mortar shells carrying cluster munitions over Misrata on the night of April 14, according to nongovernmental organizations.

Coming shortly after the Thai government was accused of using cluster munitions in early February, the Libyan case marks the second reported use of those weapons since the Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force last August. (See ACT, September 2010.) Libya and Thailand are not parties to the treaty.

Combatants aligned with Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi fired mortar rounds, “each of which carries and distributes 21 submunitions designed both to kill people and to penetrate light armor,” on civilian-occupied areas of Misrata, according to an April 15 article in The New York Times. The nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch, which also reported the incident, found evidence of at least three separate cluster munition strikes and interviewed locals who claimed to have witnessed government use of submunitions prior to April 14.

The Obama administration did not comment on the incident until an April 21 press conference in Washington. At the event, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “Colonel Gaddafi’s troops continue their vicious attacks, including the siege of Misrata. There are even reports that Gaddafi forces may have used cluster bombs against their own people. In the face of this inhumanity, the international community remains united in our resolve.”

In an April 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Department of State spokesman said the United States “will be working to verify” the reports that the Gaddafi regime used cluster munitions and landmines.

The Libyan government has denied using any cluster munitions. “We challenge them to prove it,” Musa Ibrahim, a Libyan government spokesman, told The Telegraph on April 17 when asked about the accusations. “To use these [cluster] bombs, you know, the evidence will remain for days and weeks. And we know the international community is coming en masse on our country soon. So we can’t do this.”

Human Rights Watch said it has confirmed that pro-regime fighters laid dozens of landmines, both anti-vehicle and anti-personnel, outside the Libyan city of Ajdabiya on March 30. The organization said it also observed plastic anti-vehicle mines left in Benghazi during government forces’ retreat from the city on March 19. Plastic mines are particularly difficult to remove after a conflict as they cannot be identified by metal detectors.

Anti-personnel landmines are prohibited under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, the most comprehensive international agreement pertaining to landmines. Libya has not signed that treaty.

Rebels Accused of Landmine Use

As Libyan territory has fallen to rebel groups, so have some of the regime’s weapons caches, including landmine stockpiles. Although the amount of such weapons in government or rebel hands is unknown, Human Rights Watch reported that a UN demining expert found 12 warehouses containing tens of thousands of anti-vehicle mines at a single rebel-held military arms depot in Benghazi.

In a March 30 press release, Human Rights Watch reported that Gen. Khalifa Hufter, the commander of rebel forces in eastern Libya, had pledged March 25 that anti-regime forces would not deploy landmines during the conflict. Over the years, several nonstate armed groups have signed agreements or made unilateral declarations promising that they will not manufacture, deploy, or store anti-personnel landmines.

However, an April 19 BBC article reported that the news outlet had filmed rebels placing what were identified as PRB-M3 anti-tank mines near Ajdabiya just days before.

Although anti-vehicle mines are not prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty, some human rights advocates worry that rebels will rig the PRB-M3 with a more sensitive fuse. When used with such a fuse, “the PRB-M3 meets the definition of an antipersonnel mine under the international Mine Ban Treaty,” said Human Rights Watch special adviser Fred Abrahams in an April 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today.


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