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Cluster Munitions: South Sudan Accedes to Global Ban

South Sudan acceded to the international Convention on Cluster Munitions on August 3, 2023, the 112th country to do so, Human Rights Watch said today. “By banning cluster bombs, South Sudan is taking an important step to strengthen international peace and security,” said Mary Wareham, arms acting director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition. “Other countries should follow South Sudan’s example because preventing new use of cluster munitions is a humanitarian and human rights imperative.”

Cluster munitions can be fired from the ground by artillery, rockets, missiles, and mortar projectiles, or dropped by aircraft. They typically open in the air, dispersing multiple bomblets or submunitions over a wide area. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving bomblets that pose a long-lasting danger, like landmines.

South Sudan’s National Assembly approved a proposal to accede to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions on May 9. South Sudan deposited the instrument of accession with the United Nations on August 3.

The convention comprehensively bans cluster munitions and requires states parties to destroy their stockpiles, clear areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, and provide assistance to victims of the weapons.

South Sudan had expressed interest in joining the convention since it became an independent state on July 9, 2011. The executive Council of Ministers unanimously approved South Sudan’s accession to the convention in 2017 and referred the matter to parliament for legislative approval.

South Sudan has participated as an observer at formal meetings of the convention since 2011. It joined the international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines on November 11, 2011, through the process of “succession” after gaining its independence from Sudan.

South Sudan provided voluntary transparency reports to the convention in 2020 and 2021, confirming that it does not possess any stocks of cluster munitions. In 2014, South Sudan stated that it has not produced cluster munitions and does not intend to acquire or use them.

There have been no reports or allegations of South Sudanese government forces using cluster munitions, but the country is contaminated from air-dropped and ground-launched cluster munition remnants left over from previous conflicts.

Human Rights Watch reported in February 2014 that remnants of Soviet-era RBK 250-275 cluster bombs, including intact AO-1SCh submunitions, were found outside the city of Bor in Jonglei state, after airstrikes by Ugandan forces, which were providing air support to the South Sudan government during a military operation against opposition forces. Uganda – a signatory to the convention – denied that it had used cluster munitions.

The National Mine Action Authority of South Sudan should step up its efforts to clear cluster munition remnants and to assist victims of the weapons, Human Rights Watch said.

In addition to the 112 states that are party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which came into force on August 1, 2010, another 12 have signed the convention but not yet ratified it. Nigeria was the previous country to ratify the convention, on February 28, 2023.

Eight of the signatory countries that have not ratified the convention are in Africa: Angola, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania, and Uganda. The others are Cyprus, Haiti, Indonesia, and Jamaica.

Ten other countries in Africa have not joined the convention: Algeria, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

Since its all-out invasion on February 24, 2022, Russian forces have repeatedly used cluster munitions in Ukraine, causing civilian casualties, damaging civilian infrastructure and contaminating agricultural land. Ukrainian forces have also used cluster munitions, causing civilian deaths and injuries. Cluster munitions were previously used by the Syrian-Russian military alliance in attacks in Idlib governorate in Syria on November 6, 2022, killing and wounding civilians. None of these countries have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

“Clearing landmines and explosive remnants of war is a critical way to help many Africans achieve safety and security in their daily lives,” Wareham said. “With this accession we hope that South Sudan receives greater support to continue its clearance and destruction of cluster munition remnants, landmines, and other weapons used in past conflicts.”

Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of the Cluster Munition Coalition, the global coalition of nongovernmental organizations working to eradicate cluster munitions and provides editing for its annual Cluster Munition Monitor report.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.