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The CCW4 and Cluster Munitions

15 Nov

Currently, in Geneva, diplomats are convening the 4th Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW4) Review Conference. The Convention, negotiated by 51 states in 1980, seeks to outlaw specific types of conventional weapons used in armed conflict to protect military personnel from inhumane injury as well as non-combatants from harm. When the treaty entered into force in 1983, it covered  incendiary weapons, mines and booby traps, and weapons designed to injury through very small fragments. In 2001, the Convention was voted to cover intrastate conflict as well as international ones under all its provisions. There are five protocols in force: (1) Non-detectable fragments, (2) Landmines, booby traps, and other devices, (3) Incendiary weapons, (4) Blinding lasers, and (5) Explosive remnants of war.  A related piece of international law, the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), comprehensively bans the use of cluster munitions and was signed and ratified by 111 states.

The controversy now rests in the negotiations of a new protocol on cluster munitions for the CCW (Draft available here). Many advocates are concerned that this will severely undermine the ban under the CCM by providing cover for the future use of cluster munitions, which ultimately causes indiscriminate harm as well as the threat of explosion well beyond the end of the conflict in areas inhabited by civilians. Arms control advocates are arguing that this protocol will “provide a specific legal framework for their use.” The US and allies such as Israel, Brazil, India, and China, cite the ‘humanitarian’ provision in the protocol draft that bans the use of cluster munitions produced before 1980, although post-1980 munitions also cause indiscriminate harm to civilians and these older munitions would most likely have to be destroyed regardless of the protocol because of their age. The most recent use of cluster munitions reported in April 2011  used in civilian areas in Misurata by Qadaffi loyalists were contemporary weapons surely produced after 198o. The draft also allows for a deferral period of 12 years, which ultimately allows for use of weapons that will eventually be banned by the protocol.

As a back drop to adoption of a framework that allows for the use of cluster munitions is a larger normative problem: adoption of an instrument of international humanitarian law that is weaker than a previously (and generally accepted) adopted law. This is a dangerous undertaking that we hope the US and others will reconsider.

For up-to-date information on the negotiations, follow @marywareham, @banclusterbombs, and @nashthomas on Twitter.

-Katherine Prizeman