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The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo on 3 December 2008. The status of the ratification process is unknown.

Afghanistan is not believed to have used, produced, stockpiled, or transferred cluster munitions. The country remains heavily affected by cluster munitions used by the Soviet Union and the United States. Soviet forces used air-dropped and rocket-delivered cluster munitions during their invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from 1979–1989.[1] A non-state armed group used rocket-delivered cluster munitions during the civil war in the 1990s.[2] In 232 strikes between October 2001 and early 2002, US aircraft dropped 1,228 cluster bombs containing 248,056 bomblets at locations throughout the country.[3]

Afghanistan has signed but not ratified the Convention on Conventional Weapons.[4]

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Despite its positive participation in the Oslo Process, Afghanistan’s signature of the Convention on Cluster Munitions was never certain. Afghanistan attended the initial meeting to launch the Oslo Process in February 2007 and was one of 46 states to endorse the Oslo Declaration, committing to conclude in 2008 a new convention prohibiting cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

While it did not attend the next international conference in Lima, Afghanistan participated in the Belgrade Conference of States Affected by Cluster Munitions in October 2007, and the final two international conferences to develop the convention text in Vienna and Wellington.

At the Vienna conference, Afghanistan urged that the draft treaty text on clearance and victim assistance be strengthened.[5] At the Wellington conference, Afghanistan urged delegates to heed the appeals of victims such as Afghan survivor Soraj Ghulam Habib who addressed the opening of the meeting. During the discussion on definitions, Afghanistan said there is no such thing as a “good” cluster munition and objected to the use of terminology such as “harmless” or “unacceptable harm,” arguing instead for a comprehensive ban on all cluster munitions.[6]

Despite its active support for the ban objective, Afghanistan did not endorse the Wellington Declaration, which would have committed it to participate fully in the formal negotiations in Dublin. Afghanistan did not attend the negotiations in May 2008, even as an observer. Subsequently, the Afghan Landmine Survivors Organization (ALSO) stepped up Afghan civil society efforts to convince the government to sign the convention through parliamentary and Ministry of Foreign Affairs outreach, collection of the People’s Treaty ban petition signatures, media, and other activities.[7]

Afghanistan’s signature of the Convention on Cluster Munitions provided one of the most exciting highlights at the Oslo signing conference and attracted considerable media interest.[8] On the afternoon of 3 December 2008, the plenary erupted into applause as the Afghan representative, Ambassador Jawed Ludin, announced that within the past two hours he had received instructions and authorization from President Hamid Karzai to sign the convention. According to Ambassador Ludin, until that morning Afghanistan had not been willing to sign due to a “principled position we had maintained since beginning of the Oslo Process as a reflection of Afghanistan’s current situation. We are effectively at war and any disarmament measure at a time of war requires very cautious treatment.”[9]

The night before, Ambassador Ludin had met with Afghan campaigners, including survivor Soraj Ghulam Habib, who pressed him to revisit the decision not to sign. Ambassador Ludin said that Afghanistan decided to sign in “recognition of the plight of the thousands of victims of cluster munitions in my country…. The decision is, above all, a tribute to the victims of cluster munitions in Afghanistan and around the world.” He described the convention as “not just a huge contribution towards global disarmament” but “a great victory for international humanitarian law.”[10]

The New York Times reported that, according to an Afghan official, the US had applied pressure on Afghanistan not to join the convention.[11] In Oslo, Ambassador Ludin stated, “I assure you and all our partners, who are fighting the war on terrorism alongside the Afghan people, that the signing of this convention will in no way affect our part in this war. It will indeed strengthen our efforts.” [12]

[1] CMC, “Cluster Munitions in the Asia-Pacific Region,” October 2008, prepared by Human Rights Watch, www.hrw.org.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Human Rights Watch, “Fatally Flawed: Cluster Bombs and their Use by the United States in Afghanistan,” December 2002, Vol. 14, No. 7 (G), www.hrw.org.

[4] UN, “Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Signatories to the CCW,” undated, www.unog.ch.

[5] Vienna Conference on Cluster Munitions, 5–6 December 2007. Notes by CMC/WILPF.

[6] Statement of Afghanistan, Wellington Conference on Cluster Munitions, 19 February 2008. Notes by CMC.

[7] CMC, “Global Week of Action to Ban Cluster Bombs: 27 October – 2 November 2008,” www.stopclustermunitions.org.

[8] See, for example: Walter Gibbs and Kirk Semple, “Afghanistan Signs Cluster Bomb Treaty,” New York Times, 3 December 2008, www.nytimes.com; and “Nations sign cluster bomb treaty,” BBC News, 3 December 2008, news.bbc.co.uk.

[9] Statement by Amb. Jawed Ludin, Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to Norway, Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference, Oslo, 3 December 2008.

[10] Ibid.

[11] The New York Times article stated, “The decision appeared to reflect Mr. Karzai’s growing independence from the Bush administration, which has opposed the treaty and, according to a senior Afghan official who spoke on the condition of anonymity following diplomatic protocol, had urged Mr. Karzai not to sign it.” Walter Gibbs and Kirk Semple, “Afghanistan Signs Cluster Bomb Treaty,” New York Times, 3 December 2008, www.nytimes.com.

[12] Statement by Amb. Jawed Ludin, Signing Conference, Oslo, 3 December 2008.