This week, the UK assumed the presidency of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) — taking on the global leadership of a treaty that aims to combat an urgent and deadly danger that affects some 30 countries and territories worldwide.
It has been more than 13 years since more than 100 countries adopted this landmark ban on cluster munitions. As well as prohibiting the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of these deadly and indiscriminate weapons, the CCM also includes obligations to redress the harm they have caused. The presence of these unexploded bombs continues to maim and kill decades after conflict and hampers efforts to rebuild communities and livelihoods.
The UK government has consistently highlighted its commitment to mine action in recent years. It has pledged to use its presidency of the CCM to focus on mine action and driving support for the clearance of unexploded ordnance. Indeed, the UK’s presidency of the CCM offers a unique opportunity to demonstrate soft power in action and push forward life-saving progress. It can show how impactful it can be to unite diplomatic and development aims.
Clearance of cluster bombs and other lethal remnants of war is a prerequisite to progress on many of the UK’s other priorities, including Covid relief and girls’ education. Where landmines and cluster munitions remain — often the legacy of decades-old wars — they present a barrier to post-conflict development. Only once the land has been made safe can farmers grow crops, children go back to school and trade flourish.
Southeast Asia is a region heavily contaminated by cluster munitions from years of conflict. MAG teams see the crippling impact unexploded ordnance has on development and economic growth through our work in countries such as Cambodia, where we have been operating for almost 30 years.
Kang Meng, a 56-year-old father with two sons and two daughters, lives in Svay Sa village, Rotanak Mondol district of Battambang province, Cambodia. After years of living with the daily fear of the unexploded bombs that littered his land, Meng was able to start farming in safety again thanks to MAG's clearance work.
When he spoke about the difference that being able to cultivate safe land made, he said he was happy to use his land without fear and had begun to grow cassava, enabling him to boost his family's earnings by around $13,000. The income generated allowed Meng to pay off his debt and purchase a bed, table and motorbike. He could also afford to secure passports for his two sons to work in Thailand and send his daughter to continue her studies.
Beyond this region, there is also a real opportunity to promote the Convention and the clearance of cluster munition contamination in Africa, encouraging states not yet signed up, such as South Sudan, to join the treaty. The UK’s mine action support to countries like Angola — which has not yet ratified the treaty — can be complemented by diplomatic efforts to increase the number of states parties to the CCM, which currently stands at just over 100.
The UK can be immensely proud of its history of supporting mine action and should now look to leverage its transformative investment into bringing new countries into the CCM. UK leadership can help consolidate years of progress and bring the world closer to a future free from cluster munitions, landmines, and other explosive remnants of war.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions has saved countless lives and limbs since it entered into force, combining diplomatic efforts with support to countries affected by cluster munitions to rid the world of these indiscriminate weapons once and for all.
Through effective leadership of this international treaty, the UK has a huge opportunity to show how development and diplomacy can work hand in hand. Above all, it is the chance to deliver a transformative agenda that will save lives and pave the way for more prosperous and safer futures.