Explosive Remnants of War / Cluster Munitions


Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) are unexploded ordnance and abandoned ordnance, other than landmines, that remain after conflict is over. Often they are referred to as Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), though there are some fine distinctions between the various categories. They include artillery shells, grenades, mortars, rocket and air-dropped bombs as well as cluster bombs.  They are a threat to innocent lives long after conflict has ended.  ERW exist on the scale of hundreds of thousands per conflict region.  Some of the most affected regions are Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iraq, Laos, and Lebanon. But ERW are also found in parts of Western Europe (e.g. France), where thousands of explosive items remain as a legacy from World War 2 and even World War 1. (Webster, 1998)

Dangers of ERW

  • ERW are very unpredictable: an item’s likelihood of detonating can depend on whether or not it has been fired, the extent of its corrosion or degradation, and the specific arming or fusing methods of the device.
  • They contaminate much wider areas than landmines do, with denser coverage, and are located much more indiscriminately.  ERW may be clearly visible on the surface, hidden in undergrowth or buried beneath the ground.
  • It can be difficult to identify ERW.  Items may be fragmented or corroded and hard to recognise.
  • In the case of cluster sub-munitions, they are often small and brightly coloured, making them especially attractive to children.
  • Civilians often have no choice but to engage with ERW in the course of their daily lives.  Fatalities occur when people attempt to move ERW, out of economic necessity or a sense of social responsibility – for example, attempting to make an area safe for children.

Effects of ERW on communities

Civilian deaths. Deaths and injuries from ERW are now considerably greater than from landmines. However, unlike landmines, which are designed to incapacitate rather than kill, incidents involving other UXO are much more likely to prove fatal.  Children account for a high proportion of fatalities.

Fear and trauma.  People living in affected areas are afraid to use their land, which may be their only source of food or income. They may be constantly worried about the safety of their children.  Persistent fear may prevent them from overcoming the psychological trauma of war.

Destruction and impoverishment of communities. ERW often has a severe negative effect on development and can increase poverty.  Farming and commercial activities are disrupted and post-conflict reconstruction is delayed. Traditional social and economic ways of life may change forever – in some cases whole communities have been abandoned.

The setback to development from ERW in affected countries is striking: internally displaced people and refugees are prevented from returning to ERW-ridden land, and there are very high medical costs for victim assistance. Clearance is a difficult and costly process. Cluster munitions provide the worst problem because they look like attractive toys to children, and can bury themselves deep into soft soil, surfacing years later after the ground has been officially cleared.


Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War entered into force in 2006, three years after it was agreed at during the Meeting of States Parties of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva. It states that participants in an armed conflict bear responsibility of all explosive remnants of war in territory under their control.  This means that such a participant to an armed conflict has to mark, remove and destroy ERW after the cessation of hostilities. It should also record and retain information on the use of ERW and make it available to the party in control of the affected areas. Civilian population should be at all times protected from the risks and effects of ERW.

Cluster Munitions
Based on numerous reports by actors on the ground such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Mennonite Central Committee and Human Rights Watch, starting in the late 90s, the attention to the deadly effects of Cluster Munitions was brought to public attention and a global movement to ban them started to build up.

Despite many more or less successful attempts to deal with Cluster Bombs within the Convention on Conventional Weapons and many national initiatives to set up moratoria and bans, the final push to deal with Cluster Bombs on an international level was the attack on southern Lebanon by Israel. A year later, a process to ban these weapons outside the CCW started in Oslo and lead to the Convention on Cluster Munitions that entered into force in August 2008. Similar to the Ottawa Convention, it prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of this weapon and contains articles concerning victim assistance, clearance and stockpile destruction.

Again, civil society – building up on the model of the Ottawa Convention and the ICBL – played a predominant role. The Cluster Munition Coalition is the umbrella organization of all concerned NGOs dealing with Cluster Bombs or victim assistance and has since 2003 coordinated the movement.


Action on Armed Violence (AOAV)

Care International

Clear Path International (CPI)

Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC)

Gender and Mine Action Program (GMAP)
Geneva Call

Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD)

Handicap International (HI)

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)

Mines Action Canada (MAC)

Survivor Corps (SC)

United Nations Dept. for Peacekeeping Operations