24 September 2009


On 25 September, France and Burundi formally ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions at the United Nations headquarters in New York. After ratification by Malta and Uruguay the previous day, it makes France and Burundi the 20th and 21st States to do so. In addition, yesterday Cyprus and St Vincent and the Grenadines signed the Convention, bringing the number of signatories to 100.Last week, during the debate on the adoption of the ratification law by the French Senate, the Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner declared: "This Convention represents a tremendous hope for civilians who live under the threat of being mutilated or killed by these weapons in more than 30 affected countries. I am delighted at seeing that international humanitarian law and disarmament, when they are driven by a real political will from States, can go far and quickly to get strong results"."It is significant that France, a major producer, stockpiler and user, is amongst the first thirty countries to ratify the Convention. We know that France prioritised this issue in order to achieve this ratification as soon as possible, with the strong mobilisation of Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense, but also of the French parliamentarians who unanimously adopted the ratification", said Marion Libertucci, advocacy officer of Handicap International and CMC co-chair.The French position on cluster munitions has evolved significantly since 2006. Initially, like many military powers that have now joined the ban, France considered these weapons to be both legal and indispensable from a military point of view, and was not supportive of a project of a specific instrument prohibiting these weapons. But it joined the Oslo process from its inception in February 2007 and adopted the Convention text in Dublin in May 2008. Since then France has been a strong supporter of the Convention, with Foreign Minister Kouchner signing it personally on 3 December 2008 in Oslo where Burundi also signed."The ratification by France is a very significant step towards the entry into force of the Convention", said Thomas Nash, Coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition. "It proves that an important military power, engaged in military operations worldwide, can decide that humanitarian aspects can trump short term military considerations in dealing with weapons that consistently kill too many civilians. France must now press its EU and NATO partners and all countries, to join the Convention."France was a major producer and stockpiler of cluster munitions in the past, and used these weapons during the Gulf War in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991, and reportedly in Chad in 1986. It will have to destroy its stock of around 15 million submunitions. France joins significant cluster munition stockpilers Germany, Japan, Norway and Spain in the elite group of 30 countries who will be responsible for bringing the historic treaty into force. But France will have to review its funding policy for clearance and victim assistance. In 2007, France ranks only 19th among world mine action donors, far behind the United States, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium or Italy. Additionally, between 2005 and 2007, French funds allocated for mine action have actually fallen by 45%.With these latest ratifications, only 9 more countries must ratify for the Convention to reach the threshold of 30 required for it to enter into force and become fully legally binding for all states who are party to it. Several States are expected to ratify in the forthcoming weeks.