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Cluster Munitions: AOAV joins nations in condemning Syrian use

The international treaty banning cluster munitions is gaining in strength despite Syria’s use of the weapons, Action on Armed Violence joined in others in saying as a diplomatic meeting of the convention concluded in Lusaka, Zambia.

“Zambia showed clear intent to take a proactive lead in encouraging universalisation of the Convention, and states were lining up to support that goal,” said Steve Smith, CEO of Action on Armed Violence.

“I saw cluster munitions on the ground in Iraq. Hundreds of them littered a wide area around a village. They lay thickly around the only well, and half-hidden amongst the village’s only tomato plantation. Children ran amongst them oblivious of the danger. The Convention on Cluster Munitions aims to stop this, and the annual Meeting of States Parties plays a vital part in the process.”

A total of 112 countries have signed or acceded to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits these weapons and has humanitarian provisions requiring clearance of cluster munition remnants and assistance for victims of the weapons.

Of these countries, 83 are states parties legally bound to carry out all of the convention’s provisions.

The other 29 have signed but not yet ratified the convention, meaning they must uphold the convention’s object and purpose. The week-long Fourth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions was the first time the convention has met in Africa.

Participants adopted the Zambia Progress Report, which notes that a large number of countries have condemned or otherwise expressed concern about the use of cluster munitions in Syria in 2012 and 2013. During the meeting, 31 states parties and signatories as well as the European Union and United Nations expressed concern at the use of cluster munitions, with most condemning Syria’s extensive continued use of the weapons.

In Syria, the Cluster Munition Coalition has identified 152 separate locations where government forces used at least 204 cluster munitions between July 2012 and June 2013, in 9 of the country’s 14 governorates.

Several locations have been repeatedly attacked with cluster munitions. This data provides only an incomplete picture, however, as not all cluster munition remnants have been recorded.

Notable announcements at the Zambia meeting included:

Action on Armed Violence attended the meeting and presented two well attended side events.  The first was on the continued used of explosive weapons in populated areas.  The second on the need to extend victim assistance to victims of armed violence.

“It was heartening to see the determination of many states to improve the assistance available to victims of cluster munitions,” Smith said.

The United States did not participate in the 2007-2008 Oslo process that created the Convention on Cluster Munitions and it has never attended a meeting of the convention. A total of 103 nations participated in the Zambia meeting, including China and 27 other non-signatories that attended as observers.

At the Zambia meeting, states parties formally agreed to an offer by Costa Rica to host the Fifth Meeting of States Parties in San José, in the first week of September 2014.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions comprehensively prohibits cluster munitions and requires destruction of stockpiles within eight years, clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants within 10 years, and assistance to victims of the weapon.

Since the convention entered into force on August 1, 2010, becoming binding international law, countries wishing to join may no longer sign, but must accede, a process that essentially combines signature and ratification.

Cluster munitions have been banned because of their widespread indiscriminate effect at the time of use, and the long-lasting danger they pose to civilians. Cluster munitions can be fired by artillery and rocket systems or dropped by aircraft, and typically explode in the air and send dozens, even hundreds, of tiny bomblets over an area the size of a football field. The submunitions often fail to explode on initial impact, leaving deadly duds that act like landmines.

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AOAV is a member of the Cluster Munition Coalition, the international civil society coalition behind the Convention on Cluster Munitions.