Cluster munitions - Oslo Convention


The reference instrument regarding cluster munition weapons  is the Convention on Cluster Munitions, also known as “Oslo Convention”, adopted on 30 May 2008 by 107 countries and entered into force on 1 August 2010. The Convention gathers 100 States Parties, including all European Member States. Some signatory countries haven’t yet deposed their ratification instrument.

Belgium signed the Convention on 3 December 2008 and ratified it on 22 December 2009.

The convention defines the term “cluster munitions” as “a conventional munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms, and (that) includes those explosive submunitions”.

Humanitarian consequences of cluster munitions are of two types:

  • firstly, during an attack, they can saturate an entire area without a distinction made between civilian and military targets (=indiscriminate effect);
  • secondly, the unexploded cluster munition remnants can kill or wound persons long after the end of the conflict. Furthermore, the unexploded munitions hinder the return of the residents to the area and the resumption of economic activities (=cluster munitions remnants effects on post-conflict situations).

Cluster munitions were used in World War II and during various other military operations, but the legitimacy of its use has come under discussion in recent years.

In 2006 Belgium was the first country to ban cluster munitions in its legislation. This ban is grounded in the Law of 8 June 2006 governing economic and individual arms activities, also known as “Weapons Law”, which places cluster munitions in the category of prohibited weapons because of their similarity to anti-personnel mines (Article 2, point 4°).

At the end of 2006, a group of countries decided to take the lead in order to overcome the obstacles regarding the international prohibition of cluster munitions, launching a new negotiation process which resulted in the “Oslo Convention”. Belgium actively participated in the process, for instance organizing a regional meeting in 2007. Our country defended a position grounded on three main requirements: the need for an international legally binding instrument, an ambitious content of the agreement and the guarantee of effective protection of the civilian population. It was therefore also important that a sufficient number of States cooperate, among them those countries producing cluster munitions and those countries possessing a stockpile of cluster munitions. The objectives of the negotiations were largely achieved.

The Convention bans cluster munitions and requires the States having signed the Convention to:

  • destroy their stockpiles
  • clear the contaminated areas within given delays
  • provide assistance to the victims of cluster munitions

Every state having signed the Convention and which is in a position to do so must also provide technical, material and financial assistance to States affected by cluster munitions.

The Convention contains precise and innovative stipulations for victim assistance. Every State Party is required to provide assistance to victims of cluster munitions in the areas under its jurisdiction or control. “Cluster munition victims” means all persons who have been directly impacted by cluster munitions as well as their affected families and communities, having suffered from socio-economic and other consequences.