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South Sudan joins the global after banning cluster munitions

South Sudan has taken a momentous leap forward in the global fight against cluster munitions by official banning cluster munitions.

On August 3, 2023, the country officially joined the international Convention on Cluster Munitions, becoming the 112th nation to do so. This decision, hailed by Human Rights Watch, marks a crucial milestone in the effort to eliminate these deadly weapons that have caused immense harm to civilians around the world.

Mary Wareham, arms acting director at HRW and chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition, lauded South Sudan’s move, stating, “By banning cluster bombs, South Sudan is taking an important step to strengthen international peace and security. Other countries should follow South Sudan’s example because preventing new use of cluster munitions is a humanitarian and human rights imperative.”

Cluster munitions are typically fired from the ground or dropped by aircraft. When deployed, they open in the air, releasing multiple bomblets or submunitions over a wide area. The problem arises when many of these submunitions fail to detonate upon impact, leaving behind dangerous remnants similar to landmines. These unexploded bomblets pose a long-lasting threat to civilian populations, making the eradication of cluster munitions a pressing issue.

The journey towards South Sudan’s accession to the Convention on Cluster Munitions began on May 9, when the country’s National Assembly approved the proposal. Following this, South Sudan deposited the instrument of accession with the United Nations on August 3, formalizing its commitment to the convention.

The convention itself comprehensively bans the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions. It also requires member states to destroy their existing stockpiles, clear areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, and provide assistance to victims affected by these weapons. This holistic approach aims to prevent further harm to innocent civilians and promote global peace and security.

South Sudan joins the global after banning cluster munitions
Cluster bomb submunition in Slatino village in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, 11 May 2022.

South Sudan’s decision to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions sends a powerful message to the international community. It highlights the country’s commitment to protecting human rights and fostering a safer world for all. The move sets a precedent for other nations to follow suit and reinforces the global consensus that cluster munitions have no place in modern warfare.

The banning of cluster munitions not only safeguards civilian populations but also mitigates the long-term social and economic consequences caused by these weapons. Unexploded submunitions impede post-conflict recovery efforts, disrupt agricultural activities, and hinder the return of displaced populations. By eliminating the threat of cluster munitions, South Sudan paves the way for a sustainable and prosperous future.

South Sudan has long expressed interest in joining the convention banning cluster munitions. Since gaining independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, South Sudan has actively participated as an observer at formal meetings of the convention. It also joined the international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines in November 2011 through the process of “succession.”

The executive Council of Ministers in South Sudan unanimously approved the country’s accession to the convention in 2017. This decision was then referred to the parliament for legislative approval. While awaiting formal membership, South Sudan has remained committed to the principles and goals of the convention.

As a show of its dedication to the cause, South Sudan provided voluntary transparency reports to the convention in 2020 and 2021. These reports confirmed that the country does not possess any stocks of cluster munitions. Furthermore, in 2014, South Sudan declared that it has neither produced nor intends to acquire or use these deadly weapons.

It is essential to note that there have been no reports or allegations of South Sudanese government forces utilizing cluster munitions. However, the country remains contaminated by the remnants of air-dropped and ground-launched cluster munitions from previous conflicts. This contamination poses a significant threat to the safety and well-being of the South Sudanese population.

In February 2014, HRW reported the discovery of remnants of Soviet-era RBK 250-275 cluster bombs near the city of Bor in Jonglei state. These remnants included intact AO-1SCh submunitions and were found following airstrikes by Ugandan forces supporting the South Sudanese government’s military operation against opposition forces. It is important to note that Uganda, as a signatory to the convention, denied the use of cluster munitions in these airstrikes.

National Mine Action Authority of South Sudan should step up its efforts to clear cluster munition remnants and assist the victims of these weapons, according to Human Rights Watch. South Sudan’s accession to the Convention on Cluster Munitions is a positive step, but more needs to be done to ensure the safety and security of its citizens.

South Sudan joins the global after banning cluster munitions
Spent cluster munitions in a field in Pereizne, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on Aug. 27, 2022.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which came into force on August 1, 2010, has been ratified by 112 states. However, there are still 12 countries, including South Sudan, that have signed the convention but not yet ratified it. Nigeria was the most recent country to ratify the convention in February 2023.

Out of the 12 signatory countries that have not ratified the convention, eight are in Africa. Angola, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania, and Uganda are among these countries. The others are Cyprus, Haiti, Indonesia, and Jamaica.

Furthermore, there are ten other countries in Africa that have not joined the convention at all. These countries include Algeria, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. The lack of participation from these countries hampers efforts to address the issue of cluster munition remnants and assist the victims.

Cluster munitions pose a significant humanitarian and environmental threat. They are designed to scatter submunitions over large areas, causing extensive damage and harm. The unexploded remnants of these munitions pose a serious risk to civilians, as they can explode when touched or disturbed.

South Sudan’s accession to the Convention on Cluster Munitions is an important step towards addressing this issue. However, the National Mine Action Authority of South Sudan needs to increase its efforts to clear cluster munition remnants and provide assistance to the victims. This includes conducting thorough surveys of affected areas, marking contaminated areas, and carrying out clearance operations using trained demining personnel.

South Sudan joins the global after banning cluster munitions
The cluster munitions, or cluster bombs.

Clearing landmines and explosive remnants of war is essential for the safety and security of the affected communities. It allows people to return to their homes, farm their land, and live their lives without fear of injury or death. It also enables access to basic services such as healthcare, education, and clean water.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munition Coalition have been working tirelessly to encourage countries to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions and take action to address this issue. The accession of South Sudan is a positive development, but more needs to be done to ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens.

Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of the Cluster Munition Coalition, the global coalition of nongovernmental organizations working to eradicate cluster munitions and provides editing for its annual Cluster Munition Monitor report.

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