Africa accounts for nearly a third of the countries affected by cluster munitions. These are Uganda, Angola, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and the area known as Western Sahara. The damage caused by these cluster munitions that were used in past conflicts further contribute to human insecurity and hinder development on the continent.
Cluster munitions are air or ground-launched canisters that contain up to 650 individual sub-munitions. They are notorious for the explosive remnants of war (ERW) they produce. Although generally designed to explode on impact, the sub-munitions often fail to do so causing death and injuries long after armed conflicts have ended. Calls to curb the use of cluster weapons gained momentum since the conflict in Lebanon in 2006 where it is believed Israel dropped 4.3 million sub-munitions. De-mining agencies estimated some one million failed to explode posing an ongoing risk to civilians.
Earlier this month Malawi became the fifth African state to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). The implication of this is that now only seven further ratifications of this convention are required in order for it to enter into force. Last week, Lesotho, South Africa and Tanzania reported to the UN General Assembly that they are taking the necessary ratification steps. If these three states ratify the CCM soon, then Africa will replace the European Union as the region with the most ratifications.
On 30 May 2008, over 100 governments participating in a Dublin Diplomatic Conference formally adopted the text of the CCM. The convention was then signed in Oslo on 3-4 December 2008 and will enter into force six months after a minimum of 30 governments hand in their instruments of ratification to the United Nations Secretary-General. This is the culmination of what has become known as the Oslo Process - a procedure similar to the Ottawa Process, which resulted in the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.
In March 2009 the UN hosted a special event in order to encourage further signatories and ratifications. It was well attended by 71 countries. At the event, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the most affected by cluster munitions in the world, ratified the Convention and the DRC, also affected by cluster munitions, signed the CCM becoming the 96th government to join. To date, 37 African states are signatories to the Convention. As shown in the table below, Sierra Leone is the only affected state that has ratified so far.
The UN is hosting the second Special Event on the CCM on 21 October 2009. This event is an opportunity for states to sign and ratify the Convention. Malawi called for SADC member states and the SADC secretariat to make a recommendation to the AU to address cluster munitions at a regional level. Zambia took this forward, which resulted in the Peace and Security Council of the AU acknowledging the efforts of African states in the CCM process.1
African State Date of Ratification
Burundi 25 September 2009
Malawi 7 October 2009
Niger 2 June 2009
Sierra Leone 3 December 2009
Zambia 12 August 2009
Source: United Nations Treaty Collection
1. African Union, Press Statement: Peace and Security Council 137th Meeting, 20 June 2008, http://www.africa-union.org/root/AU/AUC/Departments/PSC/ps/PSC_2008_2009/PSC%202008%20(105-)/137/Communique/2008_137_PSE.pdf
Written by: Gugu Dube, Junior Researcher, Arms Management Programme, ISS Pretoria