The following is a guest post by Alexandra Hiniker. Alexandra is the Representative to the United Nations for PAX, an ICRtoP member, and founding member of the Cluster Munition Coalition. PAX works together with civil society organizations around the world as well as supportive governments and relevant international organizations to promote the cluster bomb ban. Before joining PAX, Alexandra spent five years working in three of the countries most affected by cluster bombs – Lebanon, Laos, and Cambodia.
The Unexplored Links between Humanitarian Disarmament and the Responsibility to Protect
As 100 governments gather in San Jose, Costa Rica, this week to discuss implementation of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), this post will look at the treaty from another angle – the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). While the inclusion of the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty in the 2013 United Nations Secretary-General’s (UNSG) Report on RtoP established a clear link between arms transfers and the norm, there are also existing humanitarian disarmament treaties and processes, such as the CCM, that impact RtoP and the ability to protect populations from atrocity crimes.
By signing onto treaties such as the CCM, states are taking an important measure towards fulfillment of their Responsibility to Protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. In light of the upcoming UN General Assembly dialogue focusing on Pillar Two of RtoP – the building of state capacity to protect populations from atrocity crimes – this analysis also highlights the CCM provisions that help states implement this second pillar, using the recent educational document by the ICRtoP on clarifying Pillar Two.
Cluster Munitions Cause Unacceptable Harm to Civilians
Cluster munitions are weapons containing multiple submunitions, or bomblets, which can be dropped from the air, or launched from the ground or sea. At the time of use, the weapons cannot distinguish between military and civilian targets. Additionally, the weapons do not always go off as intended, leaving behind unexploded bomblets that become de facto landmines. These bomblets remain buried for decades after a conflict ends, not only killing and injuring innocent civilians, but also preventing any future development. Land contaminated with unexploded bomblets cannot be used to grow food, build roads, or construct hospitals and schools – although some people face such dire situations that they knowingly take risks simply to survive. According to the Cluster Munition Coalition, 60% of casualties occur when such activities are being undertaken, and one-third of all recorded casualties are children. Due to their indiscriminate nature, cluster munitions were banned through the Oslo Process, which resulted in the CCM.
The CCM, which contains similar provisions to the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, or Ottawa Convention, bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions, and requires stockpile destruction and clearance of all known contaminated areas. The CCM also includes articles on victim assistance, international cooperation and assistance, and treaty universalization.
The Role of the CCM in RtoP’s Second Pillar
As the 2014 Report of the Secretary-General specifies one of the elements of Pillar Two is encouraging a state to uphold its Pillar One obligations. Therefore, encouraging states to adopt this treaty, as called for in the universalization clause in the treaty itself, as well as points on discouraging use of such weapons by any actor, are examples of Pillar Two action.
Another component of Pillar Two, building state capacity to protect, is an essential part of the CCM addressed in the provision on international cooperation and assistance. Technical and financial assistance can support ongoing efforts to clear affected areas, destroy stockpiles, and educate communities about the risks of living in contaminated areas. Additionally, support can go to providing victim assistance, which benefits not only survivors of accidents and their communities, but overall healthcare systems as well.
Indirect capacity development results from the required periodic reports on treaty implementation status, which leads government agencies and military branches that would not necessarily interact to cooperate and share information, contributing to overall strengthening of governance capacities.
Military cooperation at the international level also increases, as militaries often share information and expertise on technical issues, such as clearance and stockpile destruction. Affected states that have received capacity development support have even gone on to apply their skills and expertise to others through United Nations Peacekeeping operations. For example, Cambodia, one of the countries most affected by explosive remnants of war, began providing demining assistance to the United Nations Mission in Sudan in 2006.
A Relationship Needing Further Attention
As the recent Cluster Munition Monitor report shows, great strides have been made in ridding the world of these horrific weapons since the ban treaty entered into force. However, continued use in Syria, South Sudan, and Ukraine indicate that further efforts are necessary to fully achieve the CCM’s objectives. Treaty universalization, stronger and more consistent condemnation of increasingly rare use, and more follow-up on international cooperation and assistance requirements to clear affected areas, destroy stockpiles, and assist victims are a few examples of steps that can be taken.
Additional humanitarian disarmament processes underway can also contribute to strengthening the implementation of RtoP. These include, but are not limited to, nuclear weapons, depleted uranium, toxic remnants of war, and fully autonomous weapons. Practices and policies regarding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and casualty recording are additional areas that should also be further explored. It has long been acknowledged that humanitarian disarmament is a human rights and development issue, and international humanitarian law has developed in response to this challenge. However, identifying the connection between humanitarian disarmament and atrocities prevention is a relatively new objective. Further research and a better understanding of this connection with RtoP could help strengthen both agendas.