Agreement on historic treaty at the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions

Published: 4 June 2008 0:00 CET

An historic agreement was reached at the recent Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions, held from 19 to 30 May 2008 in Dublin. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement was able to persuade delegates to include its humanitarian concerns in the final treaty text.

Ireland, known as the land of one hundred thousand welcomes, lived up to its name as it played host, in Dublin, to 111 participating States, 21 observer States, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as well as 200 civil society organisations from around the world, collectively represented by the Cluster Munition Coalition. Several victims, who were maimed or injured by cluster munitions, joined the delegates in Dublin and brought a practical and tangible focus on the effects of these bombs on innocent victims.

Daithí O’Cealleagh, Irish Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, chaired the negotiations on behalf of the Irish Government and led a team of officials from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.

The negotiations were complex and tough and identified a number of difficult issues relating to joint military operations (“inter-operability”) with countries outside the treaty that may use cluster bombs; the definition of a cluster bomb, calls for exceptions from the ban and a transition period where States could continue to use the weapons for long periods after the ban.

The members of the IFRC delegation, led by John Roycroft, Secretary General of the Irish Red Cross, pooled their combined experience and expertise and met daily to review progress and coordinate actions to ensure that all delegates at the negotiations were fully briefed on the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s requirements. The Federation team worked closely with the ICRC team, led by Mr Knut Doermann, Head of the Legal Division.

“It was important for all of us representing the Movement that we worked to achieve the key elements which we wished for in this Convention,” explained John Roycroft. “The key issues that we wanted addressed included assistance to victims, a total ban on cluster munitions, the elimination of existing stocks and clearance of cluster munitions as well as the non-inclusion of a transition period which would undermine the Convention”.

Working to seek consensus, conference delegates discussed key issues in plenary, informal and closed sessions. The Rules of the Conference permitted observers such as the International Federation to make observations, but not formal proposals for amending the text. However, the interventions made by the Federation, focussing mainly on assistance to victims, the important role of National Societies in victim rehabilitation and the overarching role of the Federation in representing 186 National Societies world-wide, were strongly supported by many countries. 

After six days of negotiations, groups were still polarised on the key issues. “However as all the delegates wanted a humanitarian solution that allowed them to meet their individual requirements, they put the humanitarian needs of millions of people throughout the world first. Without that genuine goodwill, there simply would not have been a Convention,” said Anne Sofie Lauritzen, International Humanitarian Law Advisor at the Danish Red Cross.

Such was the level of support for the draft that the Treaty was formally adopted by the delegates, unanimously, on Friday 30 May at the meeting’s closing ceremony.  The occasion was marked by a standing ovation and the level of emotion in the Conference room was high as delegates realized the significance of what had been achieved.

The Head of the IFRC delegation, John Roycroft, said that all the participants could feel proud that they have made a real and tangible improvement to the quality of life for millions of people throughout the world and that the Treaty will be a milestone in the strengthening of International Humanitarian Law. “All delegations must get credit for their hard work and their commitment to the people whose lives are in danger because of cluster munitions. Special thanks must go to Daithi O’Ceallaigh and his team for steering these difficult negotiations to a successful end,” he said.

“I also believe that the historic occasion allowed all of us in the Red Cross Movement to clearly demonstrate our ability to work together to bring about real change. We leave Dublin with an historic convention and a great sense of camaraderie that will remain with us for many years,” said John Roycroft.

The other members of the IFRC delegation were: Anne Sofie Lauritzen, IHL Advisor, Danish Red Cross, Anne Sofie Pederson, IHL Advisor, Danish Red Cross, Bernt Apeland, Director of Communications, IHL and Policy, Norwegian Red Cross, José Luis Domenech Omedas, IHL Expert, Spanish Red Cross, Nathalie Worblewski, IHL Desk Officer, Swedish Red Cross and Noel Wardick, Head of the International Department, Irish Red Cross.

Background information

At the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions (22-23 February 2007), 46 States, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Cluster Munition Coalition and other humanitarian organisations attended a meeting to endorse a call by Norwegian Foreign Minister, Joanas Gahr Støre, to agree to a new legally binding instrument that:“.. prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians and provides adequate resources to assist survivors and clear contaminated areas’. Cluster bombs and their associated sub-munitions, are responsible for the killing and maiming of thousands of civilians, with many deaths occurring years after the conflict has ended due to unexploded sub-munitions. The munitions can be dropped from aircraft or fired in missiles or artillery shells and have been used in conflicts including Iraq, Afghanistan, Laos PDR, Vietnam, the Balkans and in southern Lebanon in 2006.Subsequent International ‘Oslo Process’ meetings were held in Peru (May 2007), Austria (December 2007), and New Zealand (February 2008)