Cluster Munitions

For more than half a century, cluster munitions have destroyed civilian lives and livelihoods. Cluster munitions, which are large weapons that disperse dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions, pose two major humanitarian problems. The submunitions spread over a broad footprint, and can kill or injure civilians during strikes on populated areas. In addition, many submunitions do not explode on impact and thus can endanger civilians, especially children, for months or years after an attack.

The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions bans the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of these weapons. It exemplifies the newest type of disarmament—humanitarian disarmament—which seeks to protect civilians through its absolute prohibitions, obligations to destroy stockpiles, and requirements to adopt remedial measures on clearance and victim assistance. More than half the world has joined the Convention, which has helped generate a global stigma against cluster munitions. Reports of use of cluster munitions in Syria, Ukraine, and South Sudan, however, show that work remains to be done. The international community needs to condemn such use, and more states need to join the Convention in the future to ensure the ban’s effectiveness. In addition, states should adopt, as soon as possible, strong laws  to implement the treaty at the national level.

Bonnie Docherty examines a shell from a cluster munition in IraqThe Clinic has been involved in the campaign to ban cluster munitions since 2005, when it started an ongoing collaboration with Human Rights Watch.  In 2006, the Clinic took students to south Lebanon to investigate Israel’s use of cluster munitions. Students then participated actively in several rounds of the 2007-2008 negotiations of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. They attended international conferences, produced advocacy papers on key provisions of the convention, and provided on-the-spot legal advice to campaigners. Since the adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in May 2008, the Clinic has turned its attention to advocating for strong interpretation of the treaty as well as implementation of legislation in individual states.

The Clinic has contributed to or co-published many Human Rights Watch papers and reports on cluster munitions, including those listed below.

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