A handful of people released birds in the capital yesterday to mark Tuesday’s ratification of the international treaty banning cluster bombs, weapons that, in the words of a senior UN official, “continue to claim the lives and limbs of innocent Cambodians.”
The United Nation’s Convention on Cluster Munitions will come into effect on August 1 after its formal approval by Burkina Faso and Moldova, which brought the total number of ratifications to 30.
Cambodia is not one of those 30, although it was active in the process of writing the treaty. Nor is it one of the 104 countries that have signed but not ratified the convention, a process that began in 2008.
“At one stage it became clear that our military possessed cluster munitions in their stocks and then we had to make a new assessment,” explained Park Sokhon, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers and an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
He said the government will sign the cluster munitions treaty after assessing its cluster bomb stocks and possible replacements.
“We said we will sign the cluster munitions treaty and we will,” Mr Sokhon said. “We need some more time.”
Denise Coghlin, a Cambodia-based campaigner on the cluster munitions ban treaty, said Tuesday’s milestone was “great, great news.” Cambodia may not be bound by the convention, but cluster munitions now have the “moral stigma” of being banned by more than 100 countries.
“Once this barrier is reached, it’s very difficult for countries to use the weapon with any degree of moral impunity,” said Ms Coghlin, who is also director of the Jesuit Refugee Service.
The convention bans the use, production and transfer of cluster munitions, which release dozens or hundreds of “bomblets” when dropped from the air. The treaty sets strict deadlines for stockpile destruction and clearance of contaminated land.
Several hundred square kilometers in Cambodia remain to be cleared of all explosive remnants of war, UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick said in a statement.
“Cluster munitions cause unacceptable harm to civilians, both at their time of use and for many years after,” Mr Broderick said in the statement.