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Last Updated: 29 August 2011

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

The Kingdom of Cambodia has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

In June 2011, Cambodia informed the convention’s first intersessional meetings that joining the convention is “just a matter of time” and said its lack of accession was, “not an issue of our commitment” to the convention and its merits. Cambodia stated, “Recently, there have been discussions at the highest level of the government and some common understanding in favor of the [convention] was reached. The issue is now in the hands of our top leadership. We hope that an announcement regarding our position vis-à-vis the [convention] can be made” before the Eleventh Meeting of States Parties to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which Cambodia is hosting in Phnom Penh in November 2011.[1]

Cambodia was an early, prominent, and influential supporter of the Oslo Process that produced the convention. It hosted the first regional forum on cluster munitions in Southeast Asia in Phnom Penh in March 2007. Cambodia advocated strongly for the most comprehensive and immediate ban possible and joined in the consensus adoption of the convention at the conclusion of the Dublin negotiations in May 2008. Yet, despite Cambodia’s extensive and positive leadership role in the creation of the convention, it attended the Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference in Oslo on 3 December as an observer only and did not sign, stating that it needed more time to study the security implications of joining.[2]

Throughout 2009 and 2010, Cambodia continued to cite several reasons, mostly security-related, for its delay in joining the convention.[3] In November 2010, Cambodia stated that it was “still assessing the impact of signing [the convention] on national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and would “need time to assess” and “prepare itself” so signing “will be a matter of time.”[4] In August 2010, the Secretary-General of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority expressed  concern about Cambodia’s ability to meet the convention’s 10-year clearance obligation and noted, “If we sign, it means we bind our hands. We’re studying how much it will cost to remove old cluster munitions and to protect our nation against border violations.”[5]

Cambodia’s position toward joining the convention began to show signs of change after Thailand fired cluster munitions into Cambodian territory in February 2011. On 9 February 2011, the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), a government entity, claimed that Thai military forces had used cluster munitions during fighting on its border with Cambodia near Preah Vihear temple. CMAC said it had identified “evidence of heavy artilleries such as 105MM, 130MM and 155MM used by Thai military, and CMAC experts have verified and confirmed that these artilleries contained Cluster Munitions including M35, M42 and M46 types.”[6] On 9 February, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the clash at the border amounted to “a real war” in which Thailand had used cluster munitions.[7]

In February and April 2011, CMC members conducted missions to areas contaminated by the cluster munition use in Cambodia including in Svay Chrum Village, Sen Chey Village, and around the Preah Vihear temple hill. They witnessed unexploded M42/M46 and M85 type (dual purpose improved conventional munition [DPICM]) submunitions as well as fragmentation damage caused by cluster munitions.[8] The Cambodia program of Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) was shown an unexploded NR269 projectile by the CMAC office in Sraaem.[9]  The cluster munition attacks killed two men and injured seven more including two who lost their arms.[10]

On 6 April 2011, the CMC issued a press statement announcing that, based on the on-site investigations, it had established that cluster munitions were used by Thailand on Cambodian territory during the February 2011 border conflict. The CMC urged Thailand to provide detailed information on the cluster munition strikes and said that both Cambodia and Thailand should take steps to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[11]

Despite not joining, Cambodia has continued to engage in the work of the convention. It attended the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Vientiane, Lao PDR in November 2010 as an observer and made statements regarding its position on accession. Cambodia also participated in the convention’s first intersessional meetings in Geneva in June 2011, where it also made a statement on its position on accession.

Cambodia is a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty.

Cambodia is party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), but has not ratified CCW Protocol V on explosive remnants of war (ERW) or actively engaged in the CCW deliberations on cluster munitions in recent years.

Use, production, transfer, and stockpiling

Cambodia is not believed to have used, produced, or exported cluster munitions. In June 2011, Cambodia stated that, “Despite being confronted and threatened by forces, so far we have refrained from employing cluster munitions in our response.”[12]

The size and precise content of Cambodia’s stockpile of cluster munitions is not known. In December 2008, a Ministry of Defense official said that Cambodia has “some missile launchers that use cluster munitions that weigh more than 20 kg” and said there were also stockpiles of cluster munitions weighing 250kg left over from the 1980s which Cambodia intends to destroy.[13] Weapons with submunitions that weigh more than 20kg each are not defined as cluster munitions by the Convention on Cluster Munitions and are not prohibited.[14]

In July 2009, it was reported that the armed forces was still engaged in a study of its cluster munition stockpile.[15] In December 2009, a review of Cambodia’s cluster munition stockpile was completed with technical assistance provided by the German Society for Technical Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit, GTZ).

Cluster munition remnants

The United States dropped at least 26 million explosive submunitions on Cambodia during the Vietnam War, mostly in eastern and northeastern parts of the country bordering Lao PDR and Vietnam. The bombing is estimated to have left between 1.9 million and 5.8 million cluster munition remnants, including unexploded BLU-24, BLU-26, BLU-36, BLU-42, BLU-43, BLU-49, and BLU-61 submunitions.[16]

In February 2011, cross-border shelling by Thailand of Cambodia’s northern province, Preah Vihear, resulted in additional submunition contamination (see Thailand report). An assessment by the CMAC and NPA conducted immediately after the cluster munition use identified 12 strike sites and contamination by unexploded M42, M46, and M85 submunitions over an area of approximately 1.5km2, impacting four villages and affecting between 5,000 and 10,000 people.[17] NPA said evidence in the area suggested about one in five of the submunitions failed to detonate.[18]

A clearer understanding of the extent of contamination by cluster munition remnants is expected from the second and third phases of a Baseline Survey, which will cover eastern and northeastern districts. The Cambodia Mine/UXO Victim Information System (CMVIS) recorded 17 submunition casualties in 2010, including four fatalities.[19] Mines Advisory Group (MAG) reported in 2009 that in northeastern Stung Treng province unexploded submunitions constitute up to 80% of the ERW encountered by its clearance team.[20]

Clearance of cluster munition contaminated areas

Demining operators did not report any area clearance tasks targeting cluster munition remnants in 2010. MAG, working with two explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams, reported destroying 2,050 unexploded submunitions in the course of EOD operations in 2010, including 1,453 submunitions destroyed in just three months of operations in Stung Treng province and 597 in eastern Kompong Cham province. However, funding cuts resulted in MAG standing down these two teams in May 2011.[21]

CMAC, the biggest NGO clearance operator, focused increasing attention on battle area clearance in the eastern provinces and reported that it responded to 12,410 calls for EOD interventions in 2010 and destroyed 143,924 ERW, but did not identify the number of unexploded submunitions included in this total.[22]   

After Thailand’s use of cluster munitions in February 2011, CMAC and NPA reported clearing 298,365m2 in the vicinity of two villages in May 2011, destroying a total of six unexploded M46 and M42 submunitions.[23]

Cluster munition casualties

The total number of cluster munition casualties in Cambodia not known. Prior to 2006, data collection did not differentiate submunitions from other ERW incidents. From 1998 to 2010, a total of 172 cluster munition remnant casualties were reported in Cambodia, including 17 in 2010.[24] Yet due to the lack of available data this does not reflect the actual total number of cluster munition casualties.


[1] Statement of Cambodia, Convention on Cluster Munitions Intersessional Meeting, Session on Universalization, Geneva, 27 June 2011, www.clusterconvention.org.

[2] For detail on Cambodia’s policy and practice regarding cluster munitions through early 2009, see Human Rights Watch and Landmine Action, Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, May 2009), pp. 193–195.

[3] See ICBL, Cluster Munition Monitor 2010 (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, October 2010), p. 201.

[4] Statement of Cambodia, First Meeting of States Parties, Convention on Cluster Munitions, Vientiane, 10 November 2010. Notes by the CMC.

[5] Leng Sochea, Secretary-General, Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority. See Irwin Loy and Phak Seangly, “Govt holds out on cluster ban,” Phnom Penh Post, 2 August 2010.

[6] CMAC Press release, ”CMAC Mine Risk Education (MRE) teams to raise awareness of mines, ERW and Cluster Munitions for the communities in Preah Vihear,” 10 February 2011, www.cmac.gov.kh.

[7] “Cambodia, Thailand at ‘war’: PM,” Phnom Penh Post, 9 February 2011.

[8] The missions were conducted by Cambodia Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Bombs (on 9 February and 12 February 2011) and NPA (1–2 April 2011).

[9] NPA, “Impact Assessment Report: Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia,” Undated, but circulated 3 April 2011, p. 2.

[10] CMC Press release, “CMC condemns Thai use of cluster munitions in Cambodia,” 5 April 2011, www.stopclustermunitions.org.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Statement by Cambodia, Convention on Cluster Munitions Intersessional Meeting, Session on Universalization, Geneva, 27 June 2011, www.clusterconvention.org.

[13] The official is Chau Phirun, Ministry of Defense. Lea Radick and Neou Vannarin, “No Rush to Sign Cluster Munition Ban: Gov’t,” Cambodia Daily, 5 December 2008.

[14] Article 2.2 states: “‘Cluster munition’ means a conventional munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms, and includes those explosive submunitions.”

[15] Sam Rith and Sebastian Strangio, “Officials announce further delay on cluster bomb ban,” Phnom Penh Post, 9 July 2009.

[16] South East Asia Air Sortie Database, cited in Dave McCracken, “National Explosive Remnants of War Study, Cambodia,” NPA in collaboration with CMAA, Phnom Penh, March 2006, p. 15; Human Rights Watch, “Cluster Munitions in the Asia-Pacific Region,” April 2008; and Handicap International (HI), Fatal Footprint: The Global Human Impact of Cluster Munitions (HI: Brussels, November 2006), p. 11.

[17] Aina Ostreng, “Norwegian People’s Aid clears cluster bombs after clash in Cambodia,” NPA, 19 May 2011, www.folkehjelp.no.

[18] Thomas Miller, “Banks tied to cluster bombs named,” Phnom Penh Post, 26 May 2011, www.phnompenhpost.com.

[19] Casualty data provided by email by Chhiv Lim, Manager, CMVIS, 25 March 2011.

[20] Interview with Jamie Franklin, Country Programme Manager, and Nick Guest, Technical Operations Manager, MAG, Phnom Penh, 28 April 2010.

[21] Emails from Lauren Cobham, Programme Officer, MAG, 12 April and 1 August 2011.

[22] CMAC, “Operational Summary Progress Report, 1992 − December 2010,” received by email, 8 February 2011.

[23] Aina Ostreng,  “Norwegian People’s Aid clears cluster bombs after clash in Cambodia,” NPA, 19 May 2011.

[24] For the period 1998 to early 2007, 127 cluster munition remnant casualties were identified; 11 in 2007; seven in 2008; 10 in 2009; and 17 in 2010. See HI, Circle of Impact: The Fatal Footprint of Cluster Munitions on People and Communities (HI: Brussels, May 2007), pp. 23, 26; and CMVIS data provided by Cheng Lo, Data Management Officer, CMVIS, Phnom Penh, 17 June 2008 and 19 June 2009.