Monday, October 24, 2011

South Africa: Slow and Steady: South Africa and the Convention on Cluster Munitions

Source: ISS

Gugu Dube, Researcher, Arms Management Programme, ISS Pretoria Office

The United Nations General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security is currently underway at the UN Headquarters in New York until 1 November 2011. This Committee is concerned with disarmament and related international security matters and includes discussions on the curbing of cluster munitions.

Africa accounts for nearly a third of the countries affected by cluster munitions – Uganda, Angola, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and the area known as Western Sahara are all affected. The damage caused by cluster munitions used in past conflicts further contributes to human insecurity and hinders development on the continent.

Cluster munitions are air or ground-launched canisters that contain up to 650 individual sub-munitions. They are notorious for the explosive remnants of war they produce. Although generally designed to explode on impact, the sub-munitions often fail to do so, and often detonate at a later stage causing death and injuries. Calls to curb the use of cluster weapons have gained momentum since the conflict in Lebanon in 2006, where it is believed Israel dropped 4.3 million sub-munitions on Lebanese soil. De-mining agencies estimated some one million cluster munitions failed to explode, which continue to pose an ongoing risk to civilians.

In May 2008, over 100 governments participating in the Dublin Diplomatic Conference formally adopted the text of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). The convention was then signed at a meeting in Oslo that took place from 3 to 4 December 2008 and it entered into force on 1 August 2010. To date, 111 states have signed the CCM and 66 are states parties - of which 18 are African states.

This is the culmination of what has become known as the Oslo Process – a procedure similar to the Ottawa Process, which resulted in the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.

The Republic of South Africa is a signatory to the CCM. In May 2011, a government official said that the Department of International Relations and Co-operation and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development had assessed the convention to ensure that it did not contravene any domestic or international laws that South Africa adheres to. In June 2011, South Africa informed states parties that ratification of the convention “will soon be referred to the Parliament for consideration” and said, “we are fully committed to implementation of all provisions” of the convention.

South Africa participated throughout the Oslo Process that created the convention and its policy evolved to support a comprehensive ban on cluster munitions. South Africa has continued to actively engage in the work of the convention. It hosted a regional meeting on cluster munitions in Pretoria in March 2010. South Africa attended the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Vientiane, Lao PDR in November 2010, where it made a statement on transparency reporting. South Africa also participated in the convention’s first intersessional meetings in Geneva in June 2011, where it provided an update on ratification. At both meetings, South Africa chaired sessions to discuss international cooperation and assistance in its capacity as “Friend of the President” of the First Meeting of States Parties. Over the past year, civil society groups in South Africa have undertaken a range of activities in support of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

South Africa is also party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). The National Assembly approved ratification of CCW Protocol V on explosive remnants of war on 10 November 2010; but as of early August 2011, South Africa had not deposited the ratification instrument. South Africa has actively participated in CCW deliberations on cluster munitions in recent years. In November 2010, South Africa supported a continuation of CCW work on cluster munitions, but also affirmed the need for all countries to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

South Africa has not yet revealed the precise size and composition of its current stockpile. It is thought to stockpile the M2001 155mm artillery projectile, produced by Denel, which contains 42 dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) submunitions with self-destruct devices. South Africa has acknowledged possessing a type of aerial cluster bomb called TIEKIE, which was degraded for training use only.

South Africa has stated that it “…has a relatively small stockpile of obsolete cluster munitions that have already been earmarked for destruction.” In July 2011, a government official stated that the Department of Defence has started to prepare a plan to destroy the cluster munition stockpile, including the timeframe and method for destruction, as well as estimated financial cost. South Africa is likely to retain “a relatively small stockpile” of cluster munitions for training purposes, but the official clarified that only inert cluster munition casings would be retained and not the explosive content.

As part of the UN meeting mention above, during a recent general debate on conventional weapons, the South African delegation stated that ‘it is ready to work with all members of the UN and civil society – with a view to support substantive progress on the multilateral disarmament agenda. Also, in order to strengthen the multilateral system of governance aiming at enhancing international peace and security, thereby contributing towards sustainable development’.

It is critical that all African CCM States continue their commitment to the CCM process in order to ensure that the CCW outcome does not undermine the CCM.