August 1 is the fourth anniversary of the treaty banning cluster bombs. Supporters say stockpiles of the weapons are being destroyed in record numbers. However, they say the weapons have been used in Syria for the past two years.
Cluster munitions are designed to open in mid-air and release small explosives or bomblets – sometimes hundreds of them. Not all of them explode when they hit the ground and therein lies the hidden danger. They act like landmines, easily set off by touch. Many of the victims are civilians.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions bans all use, production, transfer and stockpiling of the weapons. It’s the same language used in the treaty banning landmines. The convention has led to the clearing of hundreds of square kilometers contaminated by bomblets. It also contains provisions for the care and rehabilitation of survivors and their communities.
Amy Little, campaign manager for the Cluster Munitions Coalition, said the treaty is working.
“Already 71 percent of the stockpiles of cluster munitions by states parties have been destroyed. And last year alone, that’s 27 million sub-munitions destroyed as a result of this treaty.”
She said most of the countries with victims of cluster munitions have joined the treaty
“The other impact of the treaty has been to stigmatize the use of the weapon and production. And, in effect, we’ve seen a massive reduction in the use of the weapon as a result of the treaty. The work is not done yet. And the ongoing use in Syria is a real concern and must stop.”
Little said cluster munitions have been used in 10 out of 14 governorates in Syria.
“Up until April we had recorded over 224 locations. And we now know this number is going to grow. We’ll know the more realistic figures when the Cluster Munitions Monitor 2014 is released in September,” she said.
Cluster munitions are reported to have contaminated Syrian schools, playgrounds, housing and roads.
Little said, “Places where you know and can predict that civilians are to be found. The problem with cluster munitions is that they can’t be targeted. They’re an indiscriminate weapon. Each cluster bomb strike can fall to an area the size of several football fields. Anyone underneath that strike is at severe risk of death or injury.”
Little described the weapons as unreliable with a failure rate of up to 30 percent. That leaves the unexploded bomblets scattered over wide areas.
The Cluster Munitions Coalition is investigating reports from earlier this year that the weapon was used in South Sudan. It appears to be an isolated incident. The coalition is also following up on reports the weapon may have been used in Ukraine. Cluster munitions had been reported used in the Libyan conflict several years ago.
A total of 113 countries have signed or acceded to the convention. The coalition says 29 signatories are in the process of ratifying it.
“The USA unfortunately still remains outside of the treaty. It’s no longer using the weapon. But we still expect it to fall within the provisions of the treaty by destroying its stockpiles and ceasing production,” said Little
The U.S. has not joined the landmine treaty either. However, the Obama administration has taken steps to reduce the U.S. stockpile. In June, a conference was held in Maputo, Mozambique to assess the progress of the mine treaty. Ambassador Douglas Griffiths said the U.S. stopped producing or acquiring landmines. The U.S. has also played a major role in assisting in mine clearance.
As for the Cluster Munitions Treaty, Russia and China have not joined the convention yet either.