Global ban

The central provision of the Convention on Cluster Munitions is the ban on the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions. This makes it illegal in every country that joins the convention for anyone to use cluster munitions or engage in any production or trade of the weapon. Other weapons that have been banned in this way include antipersonnel landmines as well as biological and chemical weapons.

The ban also extends to any activity that would assist other countries in the use, stockpiling, production, or transfer of cluster munitions. This means that if a country, for example the UK, has joined the treaty banning cluster munitions and takes part in a joint military operation with another country that has not, for example the US, then UK troops must not intentionally do anything that would in any way assist in the use of these weapons during that operation.

The CMC and many states are also of the view that the ban on assistance means that it is illegal for a state to allow transit of cluster munitions through its territory or permit foreign states to stockpile cluster munitions on its territory. Equally, the view of the CMC and several states is that the prohibition on assistance makes it illegal for banks or other financial institutions to invest in companies that are engaged in the production of cluster munitions.

The Oslo process

Governments are obligated under international humanitarian law to protect civilians during conflict. But history has shown that these general rules are not enough to protect civilians from certain weapons that cannot discriminate between civilians and military targets or that cause excessive humanitarian harm.

Following the failure to make progress on a cluster munitions ban within the traditional forum for discussing weapons issues, Norway launched an initiative in February 2007, known as the Oslo Process, to work with like-minded states on a ban. The work of Norway and other supportive governments, along with the Cluster Munition Coalition, International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations, and other advocates led to the negotiation and formal adoption of an international treaty prohibiting cluster munitions, the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), at the Dublin Diplomatic Conference in May 2008.

The Convention, signed by 94 states when it opened for signature in Oslo, Norway on 3 December 2008, is an historic achievement. The strength of the treaty is largely due to the prohibition on cluster munitions as an entire category of weapons. The negotiators rejected proposals for broad exceptions from the ban and for a transition period during which cluster munitions could still be used. The obligations relating to victim assistance are ground-breaking; they demand the full realisation of the rights of people affected by cluster munitions and require states to implement effective victim assistance measures. The Convention’s comprehensive ban has contributed to the increasingly powerful international stigma against cluster munitions, making it clear to the world that no actor, including those states that have not yet joined the Convention, should ever use cluster munitions again.

Timeline of international Oslo process milestones

February 2007:
Launch of the Oslo Process in Oslo, Norway

May 2007:
Lima Conference on Cluster Munitions, Peru

December 2007:
Vienna Conference on Cluster Munitions, Austria

February 2008:
Wellington Conference on Cluster Munitions, New Zealand

May 2008:
Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions, Ireland

December 2008:
Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference, Norway

August 2010:
Convention on Cluster Munitions enters into force