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UN agreement threatens a step backwards on cluster munitions

Handicap International - UK - Mon, 14 Nov 2011 16:07 GMT
Author: Handicap Intenational
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Handicap International has condemned plans for an international agreement which would authorise cluster munitions produced after 1980. Supported by several States, this would represent a major step backwards and contravene the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which entered into force in 2010.

More than 119 States will gather in Geneva from 14 to 25 November for the Review Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). As part of this conference, countries are expected to set out their position on the issue of cluster munitions. 

Following months of pressure from several military powers opposed to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, including the United States, countries like France are supporting plans for an international agreement called “Protocol VI” which would authorise all cluster munitions produced after 1980. This would contravene the standards set by the recent Convention on Cluster Munitions and represent an unprecedented step backwards in international humanitarian law. 

Of the 119 countries that have joined the CCW, 76 have also joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions so are already bound by the higher standards it contains. However, some of these States that have banned the weapon have also been supportive of the weak CCW protocol, including France, Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom.  

The new protocol could have three damaging effects:  

  • States in a position to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions could abandon it altogether and choose to sign this less restrictive agreement instead;
  • Those countries that have enforced stronger national measures could water them down;
  • States using cluster munitions could hide behind this agreement and use cluster munitions legally.

If this plan were to go ahead, these barbaric weapons would once again be considered as legitimate by certain States. Handicap International condemns the promotion of this agreement that authorises countries to use, stockpile and sell cluster munitions with total impunity. The organisation is calling on governments to refuse their support for this plan.

In the last week, the UK government has recognised that this new agreement does not provide humanitarian benefits but it is still trying to work within the negotiations to strengthen the protocol rather than blocking it outright. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague called the Convention on Cluster Munitions "the gold standard which we believe everyone else should be signed up to" and said that the CCW protocol "would need to provide clear, significant and additional humanitarian benefits over and above those which flow from the Convention on Cluster Munitions. We are clear it currently does not do this and so are negotiating through our mission in Geneva to strengthen it."

Handicap International believes that any agreement on the existing protocol would be extremely damaging and it will be keeping up the pressure on all states, including the UK, to work against any agreement that undermines the existing Convention on Cluster Munitions. Since coming into force in 2010, the Convention has become the international standard for eliminating these weapons. By signing it, 111 States around the world have put in place a total and permanent ban on cluster munitions, which have disastrous humanitarian consequences. Cluster munitions contaminate at least 37 countries worldwide and continue to kill and maim civilians to this day.


William Hague’s comments on CCW (Facebook)
UK statement on CCW in full (Hansard)

Related Links

What we do > Landmines and cluster munitions
How Handicap International works against these indiscriminate weapons

Cluster Munition Monitor - 2010 report
The latest statistics on cluster munitions around the world

Press contact:
Tom Shelton
Communication Officer, Handicap International UK
Tel: +44 (0)870 774 3737 | Mob: +44 (0)7508 820 520 |

Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is an international aid organisation working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. Working alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable populations, we take action and raise awareness in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights. UK Registered Charity no. 1082565

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