Convention on Cluster Munitions: Over 100 Governments meet in Zambia

Sara Drawwater
12 September 2013
I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what cluster munitions were. Gilbert Nsamba, a member of our team, alerted us to the fact that there was an important event going on in Zambia right now. So we started…

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what cluster munitions were. Gilbert Nsamba, a member of our team, alerted us to the fact that there was an important event going on in Zambia right now. So we started to dig. The annual meeting of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), the fourth Meeting of State Parties (4MSP), is being held in Lusaka from the 9th to the 13th of September, with over 100 Governments meeting at Lusaka’s New Government Complex.

This is the first ever meeting in Africa, and a great opportunity for Zambia, hot off the heals of UNWTO. Zambia does seem to be on the ball with hosting events like this. Surely these events help to raise Zambia’s profile as open for business, and a potential travel destination. Although I can’t imagine that such visitors get much down time, or glimpse the true beauty of Zambia from a conference room. But of course the influx of all these delegates and their support teams is great for local businesses related to the conferencing sector.

It is not clear how this opportunity came up for Zambia, or why we were chosen to be the first African host. It could be due to the fact that, unlike many other countries, Zambia has never been a producer, user or stockpiler of cluster munitions. As hosts of the event, Foreign Affairs Minister, Wylbur Simuusa, becomes President of the CCM, following Ambassador Steffen Kongstad, from Norway, where 3MSP (the previous Meeting of State Parties) was held.

Understanding cluster munitionsThe Action On Armed Violence website describes cluster munitions as, “Large bombs that transform into dozens of smaller sub-munitions when dropped through the air.” According to Wikipedia, “It is a form of air-dropped or ground-launched explosive weapon that releases or ejects smaller submunitions. Commonly, this is a cluster bomb that ejects explosive bomblets that are designed to kill personnel and destroy vehicles.” Read more on Wikipedia. They cause significant harm to civilians in two ways.

1. They are used across wide geographic areas and cannot distinguish between civilians and soldiers.

2. They often leave behind dangerous unexploded weaponry which can kill and injure civilians and obstruct development long after a war is over.

The Convention of Cluster Munitions (CCM) is an international treatyThis treaty prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. 107 states signed the treaty in 2008, after decades of concerns about human suffering caused by cluster munitions. It became binding international law on the 1st of August 2010. Today 112 states have signed the treaty.

In Africa these signatories include 23 state parties, of which Zambia is one, and 19 signatories who have signed, but not ratified the convention. Many African countries have joined the convention except for Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Mauritius, South Sudan, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Read more details here. State parties are legally obliged to help families of those killed by cluster munitions, along with those injured and affected communities. State parties are also making progress with destroying stockpiles and clearing affected land.

Here are some interesting facts from the Action On Armed Violence website:

  • Forty-two countries that have used, produced, exported, and/or stockpiled cluster munitions have joined the convention, thereby committing to never engage in those banned activities again.
  • Since August 2012, seven signatories have ratified the convention including two countries where cluster munitions have been used (Chad and Iraq) and one stockpiler (Peru).
  • Sixteen former producers of cluster munitions have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, thereby foreswearing any future production. Non-signatory Argentina has also stopped production.
  • Seventeen countries, mostly in Asia and Europe, continue to produce cluster munitions or reserve the right to produce them in the future. None of these producers are known to have used cluster munitions, except Israel, Russia, and the United States (US).
  • Read more facts on use, production, transfer, stockpiling, retention, contamination, clearance, casualties, victim assistance, international cooperation and assistance, national legislation and transparency, assistance with prohibited acts, foreign stockpiling and transit, and disinvestment.

Zambia’s cluster munitions statusThe landmine and cluster munition monitor shows Zambia’s journey. Read Zambia’s profile here. In summary, Zambia has been affected by cluster munitions in the past as a result of neighbouring countries using Zambia as a haven in the 1970s and 1980s. Most, if not all of these have been cleared, and Zambia announced it was fully compliant 20 months ahead of schedule in August 2011 (yes you read right, ‘ahead of schedule’)! There are at least 112 Explosive Remnant of War survivors in Zambia and the last was reported in 2009. You can research the status of other countries here.

Current issuesThere is a specific call for state parties to join with one voice against non-signatory Syria’s use of cluster munitions. Syria used cluster munitions in 2012 and 2013, causing numerous civilian casualties. More than 110 states have condemned Syria’s cluster munition use, including dozens of states outside the convention. This interesting article reports how activists are condemning both Syria and America for use of cluster bombs. “It makes absolutely no sense to use banned weapons to retaliate for the use of another banned weapon (chemical weapons),” says Sarah Blakemore, Director of the international civil-society campaign. You can read this public letter written on August 28th.

The theme of the 4MSP is universalisation, encouraging as many countries as possible to sign the convention, and take action for the sake of their people. As president of the CCM until 5MSP, Zambia is being implored to encourage other African countries to join. In the SADC region, 14 states have joined the Convention, with just six pending ratification.

Further readingThis is a BIG topic. It seems that lots has been achieved since the Convention became law in 2010. Equally, there seems to be a lot more that needs to be done. Hypocritical actions and political debate continue. I’m proud of Zambia’s leading status. To find out more:

Cluster Munition Coalition

Convention of Cluster Munitions

Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor

Action on Armed Violence

Exchange of views and statements from various countries taking part in 4MSP in Lusaka, Zambia