Entry into Force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions

  • Georgina te Heuheu
Disarmament and Arms Control

I would like to extend a very warm welcome to all of you who have come here tonight to celebrate the entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Most, if not all of you, in many senses, comprise a family who joined together not so long ago to achieve a vision of a world rid of these inhumane, indiscriminate weapons.

It was through the actions of many of you here tonight, and many who are not here, but who I acknowledge in their absence, that New Zealand positioned itself at the forefront of international efforts to make a difference.

It was a sign of the times that this vision had to be pursued outside of regular UN circles.  Change was needed, action was required.  And regrettably the parts of the UN system that offer potential for change on disarmament were often blocked.

So an alternative vehicle was chosen - the Oslo process - to bring together like‑minded governments to cut the path ahead, build momentum and serve as a model of cooperative behaviour for others to follow.

And it worked!  It started out with just 46 states. And now there are 107 signatories.

As a New Zealander and as Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control I am very proud of the central role that New Zealand played in that process, and very pleased to see you all here tonight.   

It was through the leadership and dedicated service of civil society and representatives of the government, including our hosting of a round of negotiations in Wellington, that New Zealand put its mark on this important convention. It is fitting here to pay tribute to the Cluster Munitions Coalition, the lead NGO that fought for this ban.  Mary Wareham from the Aotearoa-New Zealand branch of the Coalition will speak to us shortly so I will leave her to talk in more detail about the Coalition's work.  However let me record my sincere thanks for the Coalition's commitment to this cause, your dedication was critical to us reaching this point.

All of us can be justifiably proud of the end result.

The treaty has forged for the first time solid international commitments to cease production and trade, destroy stockpiles, clear affected areas and assist victims.

These are very significant commitments. And the timetables that go with them are ambitious and challenging. Indeed, it is a rather humbling experience to contemplate the sheer scale of the task in front of us.

Since anti‑personnel mines were banned in 1997, cluster munitions have become the gravest danger to civilians living in post conflict areas.

Their indiscriminate dispersal over wide swaths of country-side and their high failure on initial impact combine to make a deadly risk scenario for years after hostilities. Around 1/3rd of cluster munitions casualties are children.  Over 60% of all casualties are injured or killed in the course of normal civilian daily activities.

36 states are known to be affected by cluster munitions.  85 states are stockpiling them.  Current known stocks of munitions are estimated to include 860 million sub munitions.

There are many places where cluster munitions have been deployed in times of war.  Laos is the worst affected. Over the last few years media and NGO sources have reported that 277 million sub munitions were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973.  It has been estimated that around 30% of those did not explode.

At last month's preparatory meeting of states parties to the cluster treaty, the Lao government told delegates that it estimates over 80 million of those small bombs remain on and in the ground, in trees and hidden in the undergrowth.

Laos is far from alone in confronting this legacy.  There are many similar stories, on smaller scale, in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere in Asia.

So clearly there is a tremendous challenge ahead.

It is this Government's intention that New Zealand will play a strong role in making this treaty effective.

I have already encouraged New Zealand diplomatic efforts to secure more signatories to the treaty.  I was particularly pleased to see that Samoa has joined our ranks. In this connection, I am pleased that New Zealand's legislation has proved to be a useful model for other countries.

New Zealand will also look to play an ongoing role in the clearance of cluster munitions following our solid experience in landmine clearance. The New Zealand Defence Force has previously cleared cluster munitions in Southern Lebanon, and has learned much from this experience.  Given this, and our history in landmine clearance, I have asked officials to look into the possibility of linking more of the unexploded ordnance work with the challenge of clearing cluster munitions.

The first meeting of states party to the treaty will be held in Laos in November. New Zealand will be there. It is our intention to take an active part in this gathering and in the preparations beforehand. New Zealand will be seeking a strong and robust Conference to ensure the next critical phase, of implementation, is successful.

So let me conclude by saying how genuinely pleased I am to be celebrating the entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

For my part, coming into this role just days before the signing in Oslo, and when our attention then focused on the legislation to ensure that New Zealand would be among the first thirty countries to ratify the Convention, I appreciated very much the support that was given from all quarters for the legislation that needed to be passed through the House, in order for New Zealand to become one of the first thirty countries to ratify the Convention.

I acknowledge the active support many of you gave for that part of the process as well.

Let me congratulate each and everyone of you who has played a part in shaping and moving this inspired idea and transforming it into a vital and important international agreement.