Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: Disarmament at a Distance

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

The humanitarian disarmament community ended a challenging year on a productive and positive note. Overcoming the restrictions necessitated by COVID-19, delegates braved early mornings and late nights across numerous time zones to convene virtually for meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty and Convention on Cluster Munition. Preparations have also begun for early 2021, which will see a major milestone of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and efforts to secure political commitments to prevent the harm caused by cluster munitions and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Switzerland chaired the virtual Second Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions from this almost empty room at the United Nations in Geneva. Credit: UN Web TV, 2020.

In case you missed it:

  • The 18th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty was held virtually from November 16-20. Delegates welcomed recent successes in landmine clearance while noting continued challenges to achieving the goal of a mine-free world. Delegates also highlighted the importance of improved and disaggregated data collection to assess mine survivors’ needs, difficulties COVID-19 has presented to access to services, inequalities in support for survivors in urban and rural areas, and the need for greater funding for victim assistance. Meeting documents can be found on the Mine Ban Treaty website, and recorded sessions of the meeting can be found on the UN Web TV website.
  • On November 25, the Cluster Munition Coalition released the Cluster Munition Monitor 2020. The Monitor found that since the Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force in 2010, states have collectively destroyed 99 percent of declared stockpiles and six states parties have completed clearance of cluster munition contamination. Although no states parties have used cluster munitions since the treaty was adopted, there have been hundreds of documented cluster munitions attacks, including in Syria, Libya, and most recently Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as casualties from cluster munition remnants in 20 countries and other areas. To address the continued harm caused by cluster munitions, states should universalize the treaty and increase funding for clearance, risk education, and victim assistance.  
  • From November 25-27, states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions met online for the first part of their Second Review Conference. Delegates reviewed the status and implementation of the convention since the First Review Conference in 2015. They highlighted notable successes, such as the significant progress in stockpile destruction and the establishment of a national focal point database to promote victim assistance. Many states reiterated the general sentiment that the use of cluster munitions is unacceptable; however, civil society participants called for all states parties to agree to a political declaration stating that “any use of cluster munitions by any actor under any circumstances is equally unacceptable.” More information about the Review Conference can be found on the convention website.
  • States continue to join the global nuclear ban movement, with Zimbabwe and Niger signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in early December and Benin becoming the 51st state party to the treaty on December 11.
  • Human Rights Watch published dual reports on December 11 on potential violations of international humanitarian law committed by Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The reports document the indiscriminate use of cluster munitions and explosive weapons in populated areas.

The humanitarian disarmament community will welcome 2021 with the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on January 22 and the second part of the Second Review Conference to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in early February. Ireland has also announced that it will restart negotiations of a new political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. In the meantime, we wish everyone a safe and healthy holiday season.