26 July 2016

It's time for Angola to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions

An opinion piece by Michael P. Moore

Michael P. Moore is just back from a visit to Angola where he gained fresh insight about the country's position on cluster munitions. A researcher for the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, Michael also authors the blog Landmines in Africa.

Angola Women - Moore

Walking near a minefield in Malanje province. (c) M.P. Moore 2016

In the years since Angola's civil war ended in 2002, many memoirs and histories of the conflict describe the use of cluster munitions by one or more actors in the battles. Consider this description of use by Cuban MiG fighter jets in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1987-88:

The MiGs could drop… cluster bombs, which were the most feared by [South African Defence Force] soldiers as the bomblets were small enough to get into foxholes. The cluster bomb could clear an area of about fifty meters with no vegetation left higher than knee level height… These bombs were normally parachute retarded when dropped from high altitude, so the SADF troops could watch to see which direction they would fall, taken either by the wind or the release trajectory. This method of release bought them time to decide best cover in the furthest foxhole away from the bomb site or inside a Ratel with consequent limitation on casualties.

"The Last Hot Battle of the Cold War" by Peter Polack, p. 156-157

Angola was one of nearly 100 countries to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions on December 3, 2008 in Oslo, Norway. This was the first day on which countries could sign the Convention. In the eight years since then, Angola has made several statements in support of the Convention, but has not yet ratified it. Based upon what I saw and heard during my recent visit to Angola, I am certain that Angola's ratification of the Convention is long overdue.

In addition to reported use at Cuito Cuanavale, reports from South African pilots suggest that cluster munitions were used in bombing raids on Cassinga in 1978.1 In the central province of Huambo, Angola recorded at least 345 cluster munition victims - Huambo being the only province where cluster munition survivors have been recorded.2  In addition to noting the number of victims, Angola noted that the lack of information about the extent of cluster munition contamination from its four decades of conflict has delayed the process of ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.3

Angola Mines - Moore

Clearance operations find a lot of mines in Angola, but few if any cluster munition remnants. (c) M.P. Moore 2016

In my conversations with mine action operators in Angola, I came to the conclusion that the extent of cluster munition contamination in the country is minimal. When asked, each of the representatives of the HALO Trust, Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) told me that they simply don't perceive a cluster munition contamination problem in Angola. Out of nearly 100,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance cleared by the HALO Trust during Explosive Ordnance Disposal call-outs, not a single cluster munition remnant was found. In over 20 years of clearing landmines and explosive remnants of war from several provinces, DanChurchAid, HALO, MAG, MgM and NPA have found and destroyed 383 cluster munition remnants.4 At the moment, ongoing survey efforts to identify the extent of landmine contamination in the country should provide any necessary information about cluster munition remnants. Landmine clearance activities would also clear any cluster munition remnants found. Angola is planning to clear all antipersonnel landmines by 2025 in accordance with the Mine Ban Treaty.5 If Angola can meet this target, it would also meet the clearance requirements of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Angola still has to make an official announcement confirming that it no longer holds a stockpile of the weapon. Eight years after signature, one would hope that the stockpile verification is now complete and that Angola would be in a position to confirm this.

Angola Field - Moore

Cassava cultivated in a former minefield now cleared of any hazards. (c) M.P. Moore 2016

In terms of the victims of cluster munitions, I spoke with representatives of the government's Intersectoral Commission on Demining and Humanitarian Assistance (CNIDAH) about the survey that identified 354 victims. They said that the survey, which they commissioned, was not intended to identify cluster munitions victims. As it relied on self-reporting and did not even include "cluster munitions" as a possible cause of injury, such high numbers of victims are suspect, especially when combined with the fact that there are not cluster munition remnants in sufficient quantity in Huambo province to cause so many injuries. Independently, the HALO Trust conducted a desk exercise to identify every reported victim of landmine or explosive remnants of war from the public records and HALO's survey records. In a report that spans forty years, HALO did not identify any cluster munition victim.6 This indicates that more clarity in who has been affected and how is still needed, as in many other countries. As a party to the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Angola has already made commitments to providing victim assistance services in a non-discriminatory manner which would fulfill the victim assistance requirements under the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

In 2013 Angola indicated that its ratification was at a "very advanced stage." During my time in Angola in June I met with representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence and they both said that Angola was likely to ratify soon, maybe in 2017. Based on what I saw and heard I am certain that Angola can ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions without any further delay. It's past time, Angola. Fulfill the pledge you made in 2008 when you signed the Convention, and ratify.

[1] Norwegian People's Aid desk assessment, 5 February 2016
[2] See Cluster Munition Monitor, Angola report on casualties, 2016
[3] Statement of Angola at the 4th Meeting of States Parties to the Convention, September 2013
[4] Norwegian People's Aid desk assessment, 5 February 2016
[5] As announced at a CNIDAH meeting with mine action partners, 17 June 2016,
[5] Mine/ERW Accident Report: Angola 1975-2015, The HALO Trust