What is a Cluster Bomb?
A cluster munition, also known as a cluster bomb, is a weapon containing multiple explosive submunitions. Cluster munitions are dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground or sea, opening up in mid-air to release tens or hundreds of submunitions, which can saturate an area up to the size of several football fields. Anybody within the strike area of the cluster munitions, be they military, civilian or animal is very likely to be killed or seriously injured. The fuse of each submunition is generally activated as it falls so that it will explode above or on the ground. But often large numbers of the submunitions fail to work as designed, and instead land on the ground where they remain a fatal threat to anyone in the area long after a conflict ends. (www.stopclustermunition.org)
Against Cluster Bombs & Birth of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM)
Due to the discriminatory nature of the weapon, the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) was brought into existence through the efforts of likeminded states, the International Committee of Red Cross, international organizations, NGOs, and civil society led by the Cluster Munitions Coalition. The CCM was adopted on 30th May 2008, opened for signature on 3rd December 2008, and entered into force on 1st August 2010. As of 31st July 2015 there were 117 states have joined the convention (93 States Parties and 24 Signatories) and today marks the fifth anniversary of the CCM entry into force.
"The CCM addresses the humanitarian consequences and unacceptable harm to civilians caused by cluster munitions through a categorical prohibition and a framework for action. The convention prohibits all use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions"
Use of Cluster Bombs in the World & South Asia
In recent times, very few countries have used cluster munitions and international condemnation is high regarding those countries. The recent use of cluster munitions was reported in Yemen (2015), Sudan (2015), Libya (2014-2015), Ukraine (2014 - 2015), South Sudan (2014), Syria (2012), Sudan (2012), and growing international pressure on them and, condemnation to discourage any further use of these weapons, are continuing. In the South Asian region, it is reported that in 2001-2002, United States dropped 1,228 cluster bombs in Afghanistan containing 248,056 submunitions. After this no other South Asian country was attacked or used any cluster bombs.
Allegation on Use of Cluster Bombs in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s three-decade long armed conflict ended in 2009, which had claimed thousands of lives, destroyed properties, brought damage to the environment and shattered ethnic relations among the communities. During the war period various weapons were used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lankan military and also the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) during their stay in Sri Lanka.
There was an allegation that the Sri Lankan military used cluster bombs at the end of the war. To prove this allegation so far no body has found any acceptable evidence that Sri Lanka used cluster bombs during the conflict. The Sri Lankan Government claims not to have used cluster bombs in the war, despite allegations made by some parties. Deminers working in Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka Army Humanitarian Demining Unit and NGOs) are not trained to defuse any cluster bombs.
Since the CCM came into effect in 2008, Sri Lanka has been participating in State Party Meetings of the convention as an observer state. But Sri Lanka did not make any statement with regard to the country’s policy position on the convention at any State Party Meetings of CCM. Sri Lanka’s continued participation at the State Party Meetings shows the country’s interest in the convention, which is a positive sign.
Post-war Sri Lanka and Disarmament
Since 2004 Sri Lanka has been disconnected from the disarmament world. Despite the end of the civil conflict in 2009, post-war Sri Lanka has entirely neglected or not acceded to any of the disarmament conventions or treaties which were initiated by the United Nations or by Civil Society initiatives.
This is in contrast to Sri Lanka in the past when it had been a strong supporter of many Treaties and Conventions on disarmament. Some Sri Lankan distinguished diplomats were architects of certain disarmament treaties and conventions in the past and brought honour to the country.
Post-war Sri Lanka as Chair of the Commonwealth
For the first time Sri Lanka became Chairman-in-Office of the 23rd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2013.
The developed Commonwealth member states (also previous chairs of CHOGM) such as Australia (Chair of CHOGM prior to Sri Lanka), Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom were already parties for the CCM as well as the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) and Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which came into force in 1999 and 2013. The next Chair for the CHOGM will be Malta from 2015. Malta is already a State Party to the CCM, APMBC and ATT. This shows that member states of the Commonwealth make positive engagements with world’s peaceful initiatives but the current Chair of the CHOGM, which is Sri Lanka, has not made any progress in this regard.
At the same time developed Commonwealth states should encourage post-war Sri Lanka to become a state party for such disarmament conventions and many of them (Australia, Canada and the UK) are currently supporting the country’s ongoing mine action programme.
The Way Forward
Sri Lanka should not engage in any war within the region or outside the region at any cost in the future. According to Sri Lanka’s history, the country was never engaged in any international war. Sri Lanka had its own internal conflict which could have been prevented politically at its early stages.
Unfortunately, due to unforeseen political reasons it grew to a protracted armed-conflict. Sri Lanka now must work towards a permanent peaceful nation particular in the region. This could guarantee that with support of world’s peaceful initiatives, it could positively engage with international disarmament conventions.
As a sovereign state, Sri Lanka should be able to take its own decisions particular with regard to the disarmament initiatives but not the interest of other nations or the regional political interests.
The question today is whether Sri Lanka is truly following a foreign policy of non-alignment as they preach always? It includes, co-existence, non-aggression, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, respect for each other’s sovereignty, equality and mutual benefit. As former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru emphasized, “If these five principles were recognized in the mutual relations of all countries, then indeed there would hardly be any conflict and certainly no war.”
Sri Lanka must be a state party to the CCM without any delay as the country did not use the weapon, and also does not intend to use it in future. The upcoming 1st Review Conference of the CCM will be an opportunity for Sri Lanka to announce its position on the convention.
Sri Lanka is currently grappling with anti-personal landmines in war-affected areas, and is unable to clear the land as stated due to various reasons.
Post-war Sri Lanka must accede to the APMBC without any delay otherwise the country will not be able to clear the land for many decades. Acceding to landmines and cluster munitions conventions will immensely support the reconciliation process in post-war Sri Lanka.
After many years, the Chairperson-designate will be Sri Lanka for the Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in November 2015. But Sri Lanka is still not a signatory to Protocol V on “Explosive Remnants of War” of the CCW.
Sri Lanka should immediately be a signatory for Protocol V of the CCW. Someone may question that, if the Chair has not fulfilled the requirements, how can we ask Non-State Parties to become State Parties for the CCW.
Sri Lanka should not be empty handed over the CHOGM Chairmanship which it will pass on to Malta on 27th November 2015.
Before handing over the Chairmanship of CHOGM, Sri Lanka at least should accede to CCM, APMBC and ATT. The change of the Presidency of Sri Lanka in early 2015 will be more meaningful if the country joins such conventions.
Maithripala Sirisena became new President of Sri Lanka early this year and also the incumbent Chair of CHOGM. Sri Lanka will form a new government after the general election in mid August this month.
The President and the new government should be able to put Sri Lanka on top of the world’s disarmament map soon. Otherwise Sri Lanka will lose the past-earned glory of being a champion of disarmament.
Vidya Abhayagunawardena is a Country Researcher Sri Lanka for Landmine & Cluster Munitions Monitor. His latest publication is on “Commonwealth States on Disarmament and Development - Socioeconomic Analysis”.