For five years, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, in collaboration with Human Rights Watch, has advocated for the development and implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

On Feb. 16, ratifications of the Convention by Burkina Faso and Moldova triggered the treaty’s entry into force. They were the 29th and 30th states to ratify, respectively. As a result, the Convention will become binding international law on August 1 of this year.

“This moment marks a crucial step toward eliminating a weapon that has killed and maimed civilians around the globe,” said Bonnie Docherty, lecturer on law and clinical instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic. “I am proud that our clinical students contributed to the creation of this new international law through their dedication, hard work, and legal skills.”

The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions comprehensively bans weapons that cause significant harm to civilians both during and after conflict. The Convention also requires states to destroy stockpiles, clear explosive “duds,” and provide assistance to victims.

At least 15 students in the clinic have participated in the campaign against cluster munitions since 2005. They conducted a fact-finding mission to Lebanon, drafted advocacy papers, attended negotiation sessions, and provided real-time legal analysis for civil society organizations during the process of creating the treaty. Since the Convention’s adoption, they have continued their efforts to see an end to the use of these munitions. For example, they have articulated how states should implement particular treaty provisions. (See previous HLS news coverage)

“Being involved in the cluster munitions project through the International Human Rights Clinic was the most worthwhile effort I undertook while in law school,” said Emily Broad, JD ’08, who helped write multiple cluster munitions papers and participated in negotiation conferences in Vienna and Dublin. “We got to do real hands-on work with people from all over the world and were able to help bring about international law that will help prevent injuries to hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the future.”

Docherty is a leading expert on cluster munitions, having worked on the issue since 2002 when she documented their use in Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch. She has supervised projects on the topic every semester since she came to the Clinic five years ago.

A cluster munition is a large weapon that contains smaller submunitions, sometimes numbering in the hundreds. It spreads those submunitions over a broad area, failing to distinguish between soldiers and civilians. In addition, many of the submunitions fail to explode on impact, becoming de facto landmines that endanger civilians for months or years to come.

Since December 2008, 104 States have signed the Convention, signaling broad support for its provisions. The treaty states that it will enter into force six months after the thirtieth state’s ratification.

The list of 30 ratifying states covers five continents and includes stockpilers, countries where cluster munitions have been used, and others. The complete list of ratifying states to date is: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, the Holy See, Ireland, Japan, Lao PDR, Luxembourg, Macedonia FYR, Malawi, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, San Marino, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Uruguay, and Zambia.