Initiative for a Ban on Cluster Munitions – Q&A

3/25/2008 // Questions and answers on the Norwegian Government’s initiative for a ban on cluster munitions.

What does the Norwegian initiative involve?

Norway has invited other countries to join in a process with a view to achieving an international agreement prohibiting the use of cluster munitions that have unacceptable humanitarian consequences, preventing the proliferation of such weapons and supporting victims and affected countries. As a first step, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has invited representatives from countries that have shown interest in this issue, the UN, the Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations to a conference in Oslo on 22 and 23 February. The purpose of the Oslo Conference is to lay the foundation for a diplomatic process aimed at reaching a binding international agreement within a reasonable timeframe. Countries that have not been invited are welcome to participate at the Conference if they wish to do so.

What are cluster munitions?

Cluster munitions is a general term for a variety of weapons that disperse a large number (anywhere from 10 to several hundred) submunitions, or bomblets, over a large area. The submunitions are placed in a container that can be dropped from an aircraft or delivered by means of artillery shells or missiles. The container breaks open in mid-air, and the submunitions are dispersed and armed to explode on impact. The size of the area they cover ranges from a few hundred square metres to about 20 hectares depending on the type of munitions.

Why do cluster munitions constitute a humanitarian problem?

Most types of cluster munitions currently in use have serious negative consequences for two reasons:

  1. They are area weapons that do not discriminate sufficiently between combatants and civilians.
  2. Submunitions that fail to explode on impact are left as duds.

Duds are often highly unstable, armed explosive devices that in practice function virtually as anti-personnel mines. Because the proportion of duds is generally high – 25% is not unusual – and because these weapons are often employed in large numbers, the number of duds can be extremely high. The resulting casualties and injuries suffered by civilians can continue for years after a war has ended. The purpose of the Norwegian Government’s initiative is to eliminate the humanitarian suffering caused by these weapons. Cluster munitions that are capable of discriminating between combatants and civilians and that do not leave a large number of duds are not covered by the initiative.

Why is Norway taking this initiative now?

Since 2001, Norway has been working actively at the international level to promote effective measures against cluster munitions. Until November 2006 this work was conducted within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) – also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention – which has been ratified by 102 countries. At the Third Review Conference of the CCW in November 2006 it became clear that it would not be possible to agree to move on from general discussions to a more targeted process aimed at introducing a ban on cluster munitions that have unacceptable humanitarian consequences. Norway therefore decided to invite the countries that had expressed interest in starting a process towards an international agreement to ban the use of these weapons. Norway will, however, continue to work within the CCW as well.

What about the Norwegian stockpiles of cluster munitions?

Norway has stockpiles of cluster munitions in the form of 155 mm artillery shells. In spite of the fact that recent tests have shown that these munitions have a low dud rate, the Government has decided to introduce a moratorium on their use pending an international agreement that clarifies whether this type of munitions is acceptable from a humanitarian point of view. The Government had previously to this decision already imposed a moratorium on the use of air-delivered cluster munitions by Norwegian forces. The Norwegian moratorium is in accordance with the self-imposed restrictions on the use of various types of cluster munitions adopted by an increasing number of countries. These are important steps towards developing an international norm that makes the use of the majority of existing types of cluster munitions unacceptable.

How does this initiative relate to UN efforts in this area?

The UN will play an important role in this process. The purpose of the Norwegian initiative is to open up a discussion that has previously been kept within the framework of the CCW. By initiating a process outside this forum, it is possible to involve countries that are not among the 102 States Parties to the convention, together with key UN agencies such as UNICEF, UNDP and UNHCR. The Norwegian initiative also involves humanitarian organisations that have been working for years to put the issue of cluster munitions on the international agenda.

Who has been invited to join the initiative?

We are inviting countries that are ready to explore ways to address this pressing humanitarian issue in a determined and effective manner and are prepared to develop a new legally binding international instrument on cluster munitions. More than forty countries, several UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian and human rights organisations have so far been invited to the Oslo Conference. Of the invited countries, the original group consisted of the 25 that signed a joint declaration at the conclusion of the CCW Review Conference in November, in which they called for intensified international efforts to eliminate unacceptable cluster munitions. This group includes Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Other countries have been invited because they are affected by cluster munitions, or because they have asked to receive an invitation to the Conference and thereby including themselves in the group of countries that are prepared to develop a new instrument. These include Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Egypt, France, Guatemala, Indonesia, Italy, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Mozambique, the Netherlands, Romania, South-Africa, and the UK. The Oslo Conference will be open to other countries that wish to be associated with this intiativeinitiative.

What is the purpose of the Oslo Conference?

Many countries and organisations have expressed deep concern about the suffering caused by the use of cluster munitions. The conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and the Middle East during recent years have made the world aware of the humanitarian consequences resulting from the use of cluster munitions – often long after a conflict has ended. Countries in South-East Asia are still deeply affected by cluster munitions from the late 60’s and early 70’s. There have been calls from many quarters for the introduction an international agreement to put a stop to the use of these weapons. Norway will bring together the various actors and initiatives with a view to agreeing on a joint initiative. The aim for the Oslo Conference is to start a process towards an international ban on cluster munitions; a first step will be to develop a plan for the work including a timeline.

Where have cluster munitions been used?

The first recorded use of cluster munitions was in connection with a German air raid on Grimsby, England, in 1943. The bombs were not particularly effective against military targets, but they killed and maimed civilians for a long time after the attack. The first large-scale use of cluster munitions was in South East Asia. According to UNDP cluster munitions have been used in 23 countries around the world, including Afghanistan Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Serbia, Sudan and Vietnam. More than 50 countries have large stockpiles of cluster munitions.

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