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The Kingdom of Belgium signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo on 3 December 2008. In March 2009, at a special event to promote the convention at the UN in New York, Belgium said that it will ratify as soon as possible. It said that the Federal and Regional Parliaments must give their consent, and legal procedures have already been put in place toward that end.[1]

Belgium is party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), but has not ratified Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War. Belgium has taken part in the work done in the CCW on cluster munitions in recent years.

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Belgium was the first country to enact a national prohibition on cluster munitions. In March 2005, Handicap International (HI) Belgium called on the Belgian Senate to work toward a ban on cluster munitions.[2] In April 2005, Senator Philippe Mahoux tabled a draft law that would ban the production, stockpiling and trade of cluster munitions.[3] Despite calls from the Ministry of Defense to limit the scope of the prohibition, and considerable pressure from the arms industry, including demonstrations by workers, the Belgian House of Representatives adopted the law on 16 February 2006. A new version of the law, with an amended definition,[4] was introduced later in the month and adopted by the House in March. Both texts entered into force on 9 June 2006, with an additional amendment requiring that “within three years after the publication of the law, the State and public administrations destroy the existing stock of submunitions or devices of similar nature.”[5]

In November 2006, Belgium was among the 25 states that endorsed a declaration at the CCW Third Review Conference calling for an agreement that would prohibit the use of cluster munitions “within concentrations of civilians,” prohibit the use of cluster munitions that “pose serious humanitarian hazards because they are for example unreliable and/or inaccurate,” and require destruction of stockpiles of such cluster munitions.[6]

Also in November 2006, HI Belgium released its first global report on cluster munition victims, which became a key resource frequently cited in the global campaign to ban the weapon.[7]

Despite the passage of the national prohibition law, there was some reluctance at the early stages on the part of the Belgian government and the military to embrace fully the Oslo Process and the notion of a comprehensive ban on cluster munitions. Belgium was not part of the small “Core Group” of states that took responsibility for the Oslo Process and the development of the Convention on Cluster Munitions outside of traditional diplomatic fora.

Belgium participated in the initial meeting in Oslo to launch the Oslo Process in February 2007, in all three subsequent international conferences to develop the convention text in Lima, Vienna, and Wellington, as well as the formal negotiations in Dublin in May 2008. Belgium hosted one of the regional conferences of the Oslo Process in Brussels in October 2007 (see below).

During the Oslo conference in February 2007, Belgium referred to its national legislation banning cluster munitions, calling on others to take similar steps at the domestic level as a “first layer of action.”[8] As the issue of cluster munitions developed in Belgium, the NGO “Netwerk Vlaanderen” undertook detailed research on ongoing investments in cluster munition manufacture. This work prompted changes in practice from some financial institutions and further legal reforms. [9] In December 2006, Senator Mahoux proposed to add cluster munitions to an existing law prohibiting direct or indirect financing in the production, use, or possession of antipersonnel landmines.[10] The law was approved in March 2007, making Belgium the first country to make it a crime to invest in companies producing cluster munitions.[11]

During the Lima conference in May 2007, Belgium shared its experience regarding destruction of cluster munition stockpiles, noting that “the destruction process will be finished even before that [domestically] fixed deadline of June 2009.” Belgium also stated that it “would be useful to retain a limited number of submunitions for the purposes of training and research” based on the experience of its deminers clearing submunitions in southern Lebanon.[12]

On 30 October 2007, Belgium hosted the European Regional Conference on Cluster Munitions which focused on stockpile destruction and victim assistance. Belgium later reported that it was “encouraged to see such a wide participation…with a number of countries participating for the first time in a meeting organized in the context of the Oslo Process [and] crucial participation by some of the most convincing advocates for our humanitarian endeavors, the representatives of the victims.” The stockpile destruction discussions revolved around technical challenges, cost implications, and different perspectives on deadlines for completion and retention of munitions for training and research. There was “unequivocal support” that victim assistance should be dealt with as a priority issue and remain in the forefront in national plans and priorities of affected countries as well as donors.[13]

During the Wellington conference in February 2008, Belgium proposed that the draft convention’s article on victim assistance refer to specific steps for implementation, national contact points, and national plans, and include survivors in the decision-making process. Belgium supported a broad definition of cluster munitions victims including victims’ families and communities.[14]

At the Dublin Diplomatic Conference in May 2008, Belgium cited its experience with stockpile destruction as a positive example that this could be carried out in a short timeframe. Belgium also cited its experience as a participant in joint European Union, NATO, and UN missions as indicative that “interoperability” (joint military operations with states not party) was not a major problem.[15] Belgium continued to champion the strengthening of provisions for transparency, and along with Canada, proposed amendments supported by the CMC.[16] Upon joining the consensus adoption of the convention, Belgium stated it combined prevention with cure and past with future, and declared, “We are all now advocates – advocates of an effective ban on cluster munitions.”[17]

After the adoption of the convention, Belgium became more critical of the work in the CCW on cluster munitions. In November 2008, as CCW negotiations were scheduled to conclude, Belgium was one of 26 states that issued a joint statement expressing their opposition to the weak draft text on a possible CCW protocol on cluster munitions, indicating it was an unacceptable step back from the standards set by the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[18]

On signing the convention in Oslo in December, Belgium’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel De Gucht stated that “Belgium is proud to have contributed to this enterprise from the very beginning.… Belgium will start the ratification procedures without delay and is resolved to contribute to the earliest possible entry into force of the Convention.” Minister De Gucht pledged on behalf of Belgium that “we will invest in victim assistance and international cooperation and we look forward to the same fruitful interaction with civil society that we have been able to develop under the Mine Ban Convention.”[19]

During the Oslo Process, HI Belgium carried out its “Ban Advocates” initiative. As survivors of cluster munitions, the Ban Advocates were prominent campaigners, powerful lobbyists, and a source of inspiration throughout the Oslo Process. On the last day of the signing conference, the Ban Advocates were invited to take the floor and were met with a standing ovation. This strong emotional scene was thereafter often referred to by campaigners as being the most poignant moment in Oslo.

One month after the signing of the convention, on 7 January 2009, Senator Mahoux proposed a resolution calling on the government to ratify promptly the Convention on Cluster Munitions, urge other signatory countries to do the same, and encourage non-signatories to join. The Senate adopted the resolution on 5 March 2009.[20]

At a special event on the convention at UN Headquarters in New York on 18 March 2009, Belgium reaffirmed its commitment to ratify the convention and ensure its implementation. Belgium stated that as a means to “further reinforce the effectiveness of the ban on cluster munitions,” it was submitting an amendment to the Statute of the International Criminal Court to include the use of cluster munitions in the list of war crimes.”[21]

Use, Production, Transfer, and Stockpiling

Belgium is not known to have ever used or exported cluster munitions, though it has produced and stockpiled the weapon.

The Poudreries Reunies de Belgique (PRB), now defunct, manufactured the NR 269 155mm artillery projectile with dual purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) submunitions prior to 1990; this production was reportedly assumed by Giat Industries in France.[22] Mecar SA at one point developed a mortar bomb containing submunitions, but claims that this project never reached production status due to economic reasons. Similarly, Forges de Zeebrugge (FZ) has claimed that “a project for a rocket containing nine submunitions with no self-destruct system existed in the 1980s. This product did not go further than a prototype.”[23]

However, FZ stated in December 2005 that a new rocket system, the FZ-101, was under development: “Around 2000, FZ, in competition with General Dynamics and the Canadian firm Bristol, succeeded in obtaining a contract for the addition of its rocket system to Germany’s Tiger attack helicopter and subsequently a contract to manufacture a guided warhead equipped with 8 submunitions with an overall reliability rate of 99%.”[24] The production of FZ-101 stopped after national legislation to ban the production of cluster munition was passed in 2006.[25]

The 2006 ban legislation requires all Belgian stocks to be destroyed within three years, which would be June 2009.[26] In December 2008, the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs confirmed that “stockpile destruction is well underway and should be finalized, under the contractual provisions, in the first part of next year [2009].”[27] In March 2009, Belgium said that “destruction will take place in an installation abroad. It was agreed contractually that the stocks would be gradually transferred to the destruction site as their demilitarisation would be achieved. The transfer will be entirely finalized within the timeframe imposed by the Belgian law. This means that my country won’t have any more cluster munitions in its possession at the end of June 2009.”[28]

Belgium has not been explicit about the types or numbers of cluster munitions it is destroying. It may include some of the NR 269 artillery projectiles, or similar models produced by the United States. Belgium had by 2005 already destroyed its stockpile of British-produced BL-755 cluster bombs.[29]

[1] CMC, “Report on the Special Event on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, United Nations, New York, 18 March 2009.”

[2] HI Belgium, “The Belgian Campaign to Ban Cluster Munitions, A Brief History,” version 28, June 2006.

[3] Belgian Senate, “Proposition of law completing the law of 3 January 1933 concerning the production, trade and the carrying of weapons and the trade of munitions, concerning fragmentation bombs,” legislative document n°3-1152/2, Session of 2004–2005, 1 June 2005, www.senat.be. The law originally used the term “fragmentation bomb,” but that was later changed to “submunitions.”

[4] “The following are not cluster munitions or submunitions: dispensers that only contain smoke-producing material, or illuminating material, or material exclusively conceived to create electric or electronic counter-measures; systems that contain several munitions only designed to pierce and destroy armoured vehicles, that can only be used to that end without any possibility to indiscriminately saturate combat zones, including by the obligatory control of their trajectory and destination, and that, if applicable, can only explode at the moment of the impact, and in any case cannot explode by the presence, proximity or contact of a person.” House of Representatives of Belgium, “Proposition of law completing the law of 3 January 1933 concerning the production, trade and the carrying of weapons and the trade of munitions,” Doc 51 2311/004, Session of 2005–2006, 30 March 2006, www.lachambre.be. Unofficial translation by HI Belgium.

[5] HI Belgium, “The Belgian Campaign to Ban Cluster Munitions, A Brief History,” version 28, June 2006.

[6] Declaration on Cluster Munitions, presented by Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Holy See, Hungary, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland, Third Review Conference of the States Parties to the CCW, Geneva, CCW/CONF.III/WP.18, 17 November, 2006.

[7] HI, “Fatal Footprint: the Global Human Impact of Cluster Munitions,” Preliminary Report, November 2006.

[8] Statement of Belgium, Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions, 23 February 2007. Notes by CMC/WILPF.

[9] See Netwerk Vlaanderen, “Explosive Investments, Financial Institutions and Cluster Munitions,” February 2007, www.stopclustermunitions.org; and HI, Human Rights Watch, and Netwerk Vlaanderen, “Ending investment in cluster munitions producers,” 1 April 2005, www.wmaker.net.

[10] Belgian Senate, “Proposition of Law towards the prohibition to finance the production, use or possession of cluster munitions,” legislative document n° 3-1968/1, Session of 2006–2007, 5 December 2006, www.senate.be.

[11] “Belgium bans investments in cluster bomb makers,” Reuters, 2 March, 2007, www.reuters.com.

[12] Statement of Belgium, Session on Storage and Stockpile Destruction, Lima Conference on Cluster Munitions, 24 May 2007. Unofficial transcription by WILPF.

[13] Amb. Werner Bauwens, Special Envoy for Disarmament and Non-proliferation of Belgium, “Report on the Brussels European Regional Conference on Cluster Munitions,” www.diplomatie.be.

[14] Statement of Belgium, Session on Victim Assistance, Wellington Conference on Cluster Munitions, 20 February 2008. Notes by CMC.

[15] Statement of Belgium, Informal Discussions on Interoperability, Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions, 20 May 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[16] CMC, “Day 2 – The Nitty Gritty – Dublin Diplomatic Conference,” 20 May 2008, www.stopclustermunitions.org.

[17] Statement of Belgium, Closing Ceremony, Dublin Diplomatic Conference, 30 May 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[18] Statement delivered by Costa Rica on behalf of Austria, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Croatia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Indonesia, Ireland, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, Uruguay, and Venezuela, Fifth 2008 Session of the CCW Group of Governmental Experts on Cluster Munitions, Geneva, 5 November 2008.

[19] Statement by Karel de Gucht, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference, Oslo, 3 December, 2008.

[20] Belgian Senate, “Proposition of resolution towards the rapid ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions signed in Olso the 2, 3 and 4 December 2008,” legislative document n° 4-1101/2, Session of 2008–2009, 10 February 2009, www.senate.be.

[21] Statement of Belgium, Special Event on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, UN, New York, 18 March 2009.

[22] Terry J. Gander and Charles Q. Cutshaw, eds., Jane’s Ammunition Handbook 2001–2002 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2001), p. 353.

[23] Testimony presented by the Belgian Security and Defence Industry ASBL/VZW to the Belgian Parliament, 19 December, 2005, p. 3, provided by facsimile to Human Rights Watch, 3 January 2006.

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Belle année 2006 pour les Forges de Zeebrugge” (“2006 a good year for Forges de Zeebrugge”), lalibre.be, 13 January 2007, www.lalibre.be; and Securities and Exchange Commission, “Form 6-K, Report of a Foreign Private Issuer, Daimlerchrysler AG,” 30 March 2007, www.secinfo.com.

[26] “Loi réglant des activités économiques et individuelles avec des armes” (“Law regulating economic activities and individuals with weapons”), Staatsblad Moniteur, 9 June 2006, staatsbladclip.zita.be.

[27] Statement by Karel De Gucht, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Signing Conference, Oslo, 3 December 2008.

[28] Statement of Belgium, Special Event on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, UN, New York, 18 March 2009.

[29] On 5 May 2005, the Minister of Defense said to the Commission of National Defense of the House of Representatives that “Belgium took the initiative to take out of use and later on to destroy one category of this munition, the air-dropped BL-755.” See Belgium House of Representatives, “Compte Rendu Intégral Avec Compte Rendu Analytique Traduit des Interventions, Commission de le Defense National” (“Full Report with Summary Record of Translated Interventions, Committee of National Defense”), 25 May 2005, www.lachambre.be.