As a first step towards an international ban on cluster munitions, Norway invited UN and humanitarian organisations, including the International Red Cross, and around 50 countries to a conference on cluster munitions in Oslo 22 and 23 February 2007.
Wars and conflicts always hit civilian populations hardest. Certain types of weapons, such as landmines and cluster munitions, affect civilians particularly severely, both during and after armed conflicts. While an international ban on landmines has been introduced, there is as yet no corresponding ban on cluster munitions.
According to the UNDP (the United Nations Development Programme), 23 developing countries are currently affected by cluster munitions. Such munitions create severe humanitarian and development problems, continuing to maim and kill civilians for many years following the end of a conflict. Agricultural areas cannot be cultivated without risk to life and health, and refugees are unable to return to the homes from which they fled.
Some countries, such as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, continue to experience these kinds of problems more than 30 years after cluster munitions were used in their territories. More recently, the use of cluster munitions in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon has demonstrated the devastating consequences such weapons have for civilian populations.
The efforts over many years of humanitarian and human rights organisations that support clearance programmes and provide assistance to victims have helped to put this issue on the international agenda. Norway is one of the countries now calling for a solution to this humanitarian problem.
A Process Aimed at Securing a Ban on Cluster Munitions
There is no general prohibition specifically directed against the use of cluster munitions, other than general principles of international humanitarian law which require that distinction must be made between military objectives and civilians during attacks and which prohibit the use of weapons of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.
Measures to control the use of cluster munitions have been discussed internationally for many years, without concrete steps ever being taken. In its policy platform, the Norwegian Government stated its commitment to working for an international ban on cluster munitions that mirrors the ban on landmines. Foreign Minister Støre’s invitation to the Oslo conference in February 2007 is the first step in a process that Norway hopes will result in a new international agreement that prohibits the use of cluster munitions with unacceptable humanitarian consequences, prevents their proliferation and secures help for people and countries affected by them.
Are Norway’s Efforts Having an Effect?
Norway, in cooperation with other countries and actors, is trying to secure an international agreement that bans cluster munitions, despite the opposition of various countries. So, will it be possible to agree a ban? Having experienced that it was possible to reach agreement on a ban on anti-personnel mines, Norway believes it will.
In the 1990s, the world became aware of the widespread humanitarian crisis that the use of anti-personnel mines had caused in countries all over the world. Humanitarian organisations, working with a strong alliance of mine-affected countries and countries engaged in the humanitarian field, succeeded in starting a process that resulted in an international ban on anti-personnel mines in 1997. This year sees the tenth anniversary of the Mine Ban Treaty, which 152 countries have ratified or acceded to thus far. Anti-personnel mines are now hardly used, large areas have been cleared of mines, and thousands of mine victims have been helped. Norway believes that a corresponding international ban on cluster munitions can be achieved through a similar process.