On September 8, 2020, the Cluster Munition Coalition along with the Congolese Campaign to Ban Landmines (CCBL) and the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) met together, online indulge authorities from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The meeting was aimed at the speedy sanction of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in DRC, which was signed by DRC in 2009. The meeting was attended by the representatives from the country’s Ministry of National Defence, the Congolese Mine Action Center, and the Ministry of Social Affairs.

This was considered as an opportunity to discuss the method for having all states to join the ban on cluster munitions for the motive of Human Security, Sustainable Development Goals, and also in support of Multilateral Humanitarian Disarmament Efforts.

Cluster Munition Coalition – what, why, when, where, and how?

What are Cluster Bombs or Cluster Munitions?

Cluster Munitions are bombs fired from sea or ground or dropped from aircraft that open up mid-air to detach a tens or hundreds of submunitions, which can pervade an area up to the size of several football fields. These submunitions are bound to injure or kill anyone beyond the area that has been targeted.

The fuse of each submunition generally activates when it collides with something, causing an explosion in the area. But most of the time, a large number of submunitions fail to function according to the design and land on the ground without exploding. The ones which do not explode, remain buried in the ground as very dangerous duds.

Under Article 2 of the Convention of Cluster Munitions, cluster munitions are defined as “a conventional munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms, and includes those explosive submunitions”. Hence, all the relevant Convention obligations, apply to both the container and the submunitions it has.

According to the Cluster Munition Coalition, Article 2 also defines what is not considered a cluster munition. Article 2(2)(a) and 2(2)(b) exclude a munition or submunition designed to dispense flares, smoke, pyrotechnics, or chaff, or designed to produce electrical or electronic effects. The definition also excludes “a munition designed exclusively for an air defence role,” meaning a munition that can only be used against targets in the air. Weapons that are designed to have utility against both aerial and ground-based targets are banned. In addition, Article 1(3) states that the convention does not apply to mines, meaning it does not ban munitions that disperse one or more mines. (Antipersonnel mines are banned under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.)

Article 2(2)(c) lists the characteristics of a set of munitions with submunitions, the use of which is not believed to cause “indiscriminate area effects and the risks posed by unexploded submunitions.” Any munition meeting all five of the criteria listed in Article 2(2)(c)(i-v) are not considered cluster munitions under the convention. Munitions meeting only four or less of the criteria are considered cluster munitions. For example, a munition that has less than 10 submunitions, but is not designed to detect and engage a single target object, is a cluster munition.

Why is Cluster Munition a Global Problem?

Cluster munitions have been used by 20 states during the armed conflict in over 35 countries. According to a research report by Handicap International- Humanity and Inclusion, the effects of unexploded submunitions are more lethal, as they kill and injure civilians 98 percent of the time. The research concluded more than 11,000 confirmed cluster submunitions casualties, according to the data provided by the countries, but the real numbers could be as high as 100,000 as 91 percent of the casualties happen in countries with no data collecting mechanism such as Iraq.

According to the official site of Cluster Munition Coalitions, countries like Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chad, Croatia, Cambodia, Chile, Democratic Republic of Congo, Germany, Iraq, Iran, Lao PDR, Libya, Lebanon, Montenegro, Serbia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vietnam, and Yemen are contaminated by the remnants of cluster munitions.

Amongst these countries, Lao PDR and Vietnam are the most heavily affected according to the data collected, whereas countries like Syria and Yemen, which are violence-prone, on a daily basis have a weak data collection mechanism, so the exact scale of contamination in these countries is not known. In Azerbaijan, contamination exists in areas outside the government control, and in the United Kingdom, the contamination exists in the Falkland Island/ Malvinas.

To view the full country status, click here.

34 countries in the world have produced cluster munitions at one point or the other post World War II. 16 of the 34 still are the producers of cluster munitions and 18 countries stopped after becoming the part of the convention. Those 16 countries include – India, Brazil, China, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Israel, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, and the US.

The Origin and Aims of Convention on Cluster Munitions

The Convention on Cluster Munitions was signed at the Oslo Signing Conference in December 2008, by 94 countries. It entered into force on August 1, 2010, after it was formalized by 30 states in February 2010. Till 2019, 121 countries have committed to the goals of the Convention. 108 out of 121 have become the formalized members of the Convention and 13 are signatories.

The Convention signed in 2008, is the only international framework to extirpate cluster munition weapons. The Cluster Munition Convention prohibits the use, production, stockpiling, or transfer of cluster bombs. Apart from this, the convention requires clearance of remnants and the destruction of stocks from the countries that sign it. The states that sign the convention, also are to provide assistance to survivors and their communities and infrastructure on the basis of existing international human rights and humanitarian law.

According to the convention, the countries which are part of it are to destroy the stocks within eight years and clear the contaminated land within ten years.

India’s Stance on Cluster Munition

India has not signed the convention of cluster munitions as of now, as it views Cluster Munitions as legitimate weapons if used according to the International Humanitarian Law. India restrained itself from voting on a key United Nations (UN) resolution on the Convention of Cluster Munition in December 2017 and has never attended any meeting of the convention.

India produces and exports cluster munitions, and has denied any claim of its usage by the country so far. In a response to a Right to Information (RTI) request, the Ministry of Defence stated that India does not produce 130 mm and 155 mm artillery containing dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) equipped with self-destruct feature but acknowledged that a 130 mm version was being developed, in 2012.

In 2015, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said to the media that the submunition warheads for the Pinaka system had been tested at a firing range in Pokhran, a city in Rajasthan.