2006 Review Conference

WILPF report from the 2006 Review Conference
Beatrice Fihn & Katie Harrison | Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

The most significant event during the Conference was the announcement by Norway, that they would start a process to negotiate a treaty banning cluster munitions. Civil society has played a huge role in bringing the issue of cluster munitions into the spotlight on the CCW agenda. When the process starts next year, civil society must be ready to put pressure on all governments to participate in negotiations on a new treaty banning cluster munitions.  At the outset of this Review Conference, cluster munitions were hardly mentioned by some states, yet they quickly became a main issue. It is no longer possible for States to ignore this issue.

For the first time in five years, a review conference about security and disarmament included more than procedural changes in its Final Declaration and produced substantive decisions when the High Contracting Parties of the Convention of Certain Conventional Weapons adopted the Final Declaration of the Third Review Conference on Friday, November 17 at 18:15.  The Final Declaration included decisions on compliance, universalization, a sponsorship programme, and a mandate on cluster munitions. The High Contracting Parties, however, failed to decide anything on the issue of MOTAPMs (Mines Other Than Anti Personnel Mines) and many states had hoped for a more progressive mandate on cluster munitions.  However, the conference can certainly be considered a success for multilateral disarmament machinery.

Cluster munitions
With only three days left of the review conference, two additional proposals were submitted alongside the mandate on cluster munitions presented by six nations (Austria, Sweden, Holy See, Ireland, Mexico, and New Zealand) during the first week.  Although introduced by these six states, the initiative quickly garnered support from 27 countries. 

The European Union proposed to establish an open-ended group of governmental experts with the purpose of elaborating recommendations for further action on cluster munitions in the CCW.  Even though 17 of the 27 states that supported the six nation initiative are EU members, the EU proposal did not mention negotiations on cluster munitions. It only elaborated recommendations for further action.

The United Kingdom, also a member of the EU, presented its own minimalist proposal. The UK advocated convening one meeting of governmental experts with the purpose of considering the implementation of humanitarian law to weapon systems of explosive remnants of war, with a particular focus on cluster munitions.

The United States welcomed the “evolution of proposals,” which Canada described as ‘a menu of interesting and delectable looking dishes.’ They voiced their support for the UK proposal together with China, India, Japan, Australia, and the Russian Federation. The US said that the UK proposal was the only one they “could live with,” while both Norway and Mexico thought that it did not correspond to the urgent humanitarian need for action on cluster munitions. Norway also criticized the EU proposal by stating "both these proposals for a mandate fall far below our expectations and we are not in a position to support either".

None of the 27 counties that supported the original six nation initiative took the floor in support of either the EU or the UK proposal.

On the last day of the review conference,  Parties to the CCW decided to adopt the proposal made by the United Kingdom, as it was the only proposal that enjoyed consensus. A number of delegations expressed dissatisfaction with the weak mandate. Mexico explicitly stated that it did not want to block consensus in international conferences ‘as done by some delegations,” but wanted it clearly noted that it felt the mandate was inadequate.

Norway, in its closing statement, took note of the fact that the Conference could not deal with the important issue of cluster munitions effectively and declared that it would organize an international conference in Oslo to start a process towards an international ban on cluster munitions.

Norway’s proposal was applauded by all the NGOs present. The Cluster Munition Coalition, Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, and Mines Action Canada made statements welcoming the Norwegian initiative and underlining the humanitarian urgency of this problem. Human Right Watch pointed out that any country which is serious about taking action on the issue of cluster munitions must join the initiative now.

Mexico also talked about taking the issue of cluster munitions outside the CCW. The Holy See said that it was “worthwhile that all additional initiatives that can be taken to move forward the process towards an international agreement be encouraged.” None of the other states that supported the six nation proposal mentioned the Norwegian initiative and instead some of them reiterated their call for negotiating a legally binding protocol inside the CCW.

The United States was disappointed by the announcement from the Norwegian delegation and stated that going outside the CCW would undermine the Convention and would not be healthy for international law.

A delegate from the United Kingdom seemed frustrated by the announcement from Norway and turned to the NGO section which had previously criticized the UK proposal and said that he did not need to be lectured by NGOs on how to take action.

The issue of cluster munitions remained contentious throughout the Conference. During these two weeks, however, progress was made and some  positions changed.

The United States, in their opening statement, said that they did not see any reason to work on the issue of cluster munitions. Yet in their closing statement, they admitted the humanitarian concern and declared themselves ready to work on ERW (Explosive Remnants of War) with focus on cluster munitions during the next year, in line with the UK proposal.

Entry into force of Protocol V
A special plenary meeting was held Monday, 13 November, to mark the entry into force of Protocol V of the Convention. Protocol V entered into force in less than three years, after ratification by 26  Parties with more planning to join. Several states intending to begin or undergoing the ratification process made speeches welcoming the entry into force of Protocol V, recognizing its important contribution to international humanitarian law. During the special plenary session, the Declaration on the entry into force of Protocol V was read to the Conference and a short film on ERW prepared by the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) was shown. The film drew attention to the humanitarian dangers presented by ERW. Cluster weapons can destroy an area as large as 8 football fields and have a failure rate of 25 percent, leaving behind thousands or even millions of unexploded submunitions which often attract children with their bright colors and interesting shapes. In the ICRC speech on ERW and Protocol V, a formal meeting was called for in 2007 to discuss operationalizing the Protocol.  UNMAS (United Nations Mine Action Service)  stated that it had developed a set of standard procedures for militaries to use to record information on ERW.

Mines Other Than Anti-Personnel Mines (MOTAPM)
Unfortunately, the Third Review Conference made no progress on MOTAPM. The Final Document of the Conference holds that Parties “will discuss further feasible precautions that may be taken to protect civilians from the effects of MOTAPM/AVM,” and “will seek to build on the work of the GGE over the past five years in order to achieve consensus on appropriate measures to address the issue of MOTAPM/AVM, including their use.” Two days will be set aside for discussion of MOTAPM in the meeting in 2007. This underwhelming declaration was the only consensus that was reached during the Conference.

Earlier in the week, Germany called for Parties to ‘seize the moment’ and negotiate a legally binding instrument on MOTAPM. The US, however, opposed even discussing MOTAPM as they stated there was no consensus on the issue and no point in continuing work. Russia quickly supported the statement made by the US.

At the end of the Conference, many states circulated statements on MOTAPM. The Holy See and the EU lamented the failure of the Conference to produce a legally binding instrument on MOTAPM, along with Japan, which advocated for an instrument that would contain regulations on detectability and active life. Germany, in its Declaration on MOTAPM, expressed hope for the future and stated that “On a national basis, Germany is applying the following policy on MOTAPM, which is more stringent than the European Union’s proposals which Germany supports in the CCW context:” MOTAPM used by the German armed forces are detectable, limited in their active life, and any transferred to third states must meet these requirements.

Pakistan declared that the failure of the Conference to reach consensus on MOTAPM derived from the lack of consideration for balancing military interests and humanitarian concerns. It also claimed that detectability and active life features were not necessary for the purposes of humanitarian demining. Pakistan recirculated its September 5, 2006 proposal on anti-vehicle mines (AVM), in which it stressed that AVM are legitimate defensive weapons and declared, “The AVMs do not pose serious humanitarian concerns. No credible statistics exist to prove the adverse effects of AVMs for civilians…The few incidents and casualties, quoted during the deliberations, are limited to civil wars involving non-state actors (NSAs). Civil war casualties will continue even if mines are detectable and non-persistent.” The Pakistani proposal contained minimal regulations for AVM and specifically stated that only remotely delivered AVM should contain self-destruct, self-neutralization, or self-deactivation features.

Australia, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, and the US made a joint declaration on AVMs, announcing their commitments “not to use any anti-vehicle mine outside of a perimeter-marked area if that mine is not detectable.” Denmark made a statement on behalf of Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, El Salvador, Estonia, France, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Korea, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, the UK and the US on AVM and MOTAPM, declaring not to use any AVM outside a perimeter-marked area (PMA) if it is not detectable and does not contain a self-destruction or self-neutralization mechanism designed to ensure that no more than 10 percent of activated mines fail to self-destruct within 45 days. They also agreed not to use AVMs outside PMA unless the AVM also contains a back-up self-deactivation feature. Together these requirements aim to achieve improving the failure rate of AVM to the target that “no more than one in one thousand activated mines functions as a mine one hundred twenty days after arming.”

Laser Weapons
The proposal to work on Laser Systems put forth by Sweden and Germany was not accepted. The Russian Federation reiterated that there was no evidence that Protocol IV had been violated and the United Kingdom shared the ”wise words of our Russian colleagues” and pointed out the lack of interest to pursue this question. The United States once again declared that there was no need to work on this issue.

Sweden declared that even though they still supported the proposal, it was clear that it did not have the support needed to pursue this further.

After two weeks of negotiations, the Review Conference finally adopted the decision on a compliance mechanism. Even though the mechanism is lacks verification and is on a voluntary basis, it still marks a significant improvement for the treaty. After disagreement during the first week of the Conference, the High Contracting Parties finally agreed to adopt a decision establishing a pool of experts, with a mandate to assist member states concerned about fulfilling their legal obligations under the Convention. The decision will serve to provide assistance enabling states to fully comply with the Treaty. 

The Final Declaration
The Final Declaration of the Third Review Conference summarizes the work conducted over the past two weeks and reaffirms the provisions contained in the Convention. The preambular paragraphs express the general principles, aims, and intentions of the CCW. The operational paragraphs discuss the Parties’ commitments to implement the Convention and comply with its obligations. The Declaration mentions the achievements of the Conference—the adoption of a Plan of Action on Universality, a Sponsorship Programme, decision on a compliance mechanism, and the entry into force of Protocol V. It also mentions areas in which the Conference was unable to make much progress, like MOTAPM and ERW, and affirms the need to continue efforts in the future. The Declaration also urges states “to conduct reviews to determine whether any new weapon, means or methods of warfare would be prohibited under international humanitarian law,” or under the standards of the Convention. The Declaration notes the guide to legal review of new weapons and means published in 2006 by the ICRC.  The Declaration also reiterates the following decisions made at the Conference:

  • Decision #1—to convene a meeting of government experts to consider the application and implementation of international humanitarian law to ERW, “with particular focus on cluster munitions”
  • Decision #2—to dedicate two days at the next meeting of High Contracting Parties to the discussion of MOTAPM
  • Decision #3—to create a compliance mechanism to the Convention
  • Decision #4—to recommend the Secretary-General of the UN to assist in the universalization of the Convention
  • Decision #5—to create a sponsorship programme
  • Decision #6—to organize and plan the CCW activities for the coming year, 2007

The Declaration was adopted late on the evening of Friday 17th November and was the first substantive final declaration of any disarmament review conference held in the past five years. High Contracting Parties did not agree on everything, but all parties showed willingness to negotiate and be flexible. Countries like Mexico made reservations instead of blocking consensus and the United States changed positions during the week and recognized the need for action on cluster munitions. Unfortunately, there was no action taken on MOTAPM. The United States was disappointed with the lack of progress, but also stated that this would not mean that it would start a separate process on MOTAPM outside the CCW. Instead, the US thought that national declarations  would serve a better purpose and showed its disapproval of the Norwegian initiative to start a separate process on cluster munitions.

After two weeks of meetings and sessions, a new process proposed by Norway is about to start. It is imperative that all states which called for action on cluster munitions should now engage in negotiating a meaningful treaty, one that would ban weapons that continue to maim and kill civilians indiscriminately, even long after the conflict is over.