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The definition of a cluster munition for the purpose of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions is set out in Articles 1 and 2 of this treaty.
According to Article 2(2) of the Convention:
‘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. It does not mean the following:
(a) A munition or submunition designed to dispense flares, smoke, pyrotechnics or chaff; or a munition designed exclusively for an air defence role;
(b) A munition or submunition designed to produce electrical or electronic effects;
(c) A munition that, in order to avoid indiscriminate area effects and the risks posed by unexploded submunitions, has all of the following characteristics:
- (i) Each munition contains fewer than ten explosive submunitions;
- (ii) Each explosive submunition weighs more than four kilograms;
- (iii) Each explosive submunition is designed to detect and engage a single target object;
- (iv) Each explosive submunition is equipped with an electronic self-destruction mechanism;
- (v) Each explosive submunition is equipped with an electronic self-deactivating feature.
According to Article 2(3):
‘Explosive submunition’ means a conventional munition that in order to perform its task is dispersed or released by a cluster munition and is designed to function by detonating an explosive charge prior to, on or after impact.
Thus, for the purposes of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions the term cluster munition covers both the explosive submunitions and the ‘parent’ container/dispenser. Explosive submunitions are small, unguided explosive devices (each weighing less than 20 kilogrammes) that are designed to explode prior to, on or after impact. Depending on the model, the number of submunitions dispersed or released by a cluster munition can vary from several dozen to more than 600.
Under the terms of the Convention, weapons with fewer than 10 explosive submunitions are not considered to be cluster munitions as long as each submunition weighs more than four kilogrammes, can detect and engage a specific target object, and is equipped with electronic self-destruct and self-deactivating features. The Convention neither prohibits nor restricts the use of these weapons; however, their use is regulated by the rules of international humanitarian law, particularly the rule of distinction, the rule of proportionality, and the rule of precautions in attacks.
According to Article 1(2) of the Convention, the general prohibitions set out in the Convention apply to ‘explosive bomblets that are specifically designed to be dispersed or released from dispensers affixed to aircraft.’ Such weapons do not form part of the definition of a cluster munition for the purposes of the Convention but the prohibitions on use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, and transfer of Article 1 are applied to these explosive bomblets.
According to Article 1(3) of the Convention, it does not apply to landmines, even when they are dispersed from a ‘parent’ container.
Last updated on: 30 November 2013