17 August 2012

Australia poised to pass dubious law to implement cluster bomb ban

 Survivor Soraj Ghulam Habib outside the Australian Senate in Canberra last year. Photo credit: CMCCMC calls on government to revise draft law(London, 17 August 2012) The Australian government is poised to pass a law to implement the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions that could contradict the humanitarian treaty.The Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC)’s global membership is urging Australia to revise the law before it is debated in the Australian Senate on Monday, and to remain true to its pledge to prevent the harm cluster munitions cause.“As drafted, this law is inconsistent with the object and purpose of the Convention which is to eliminate cluster munitions and the harm that they cause,” said Laura Cheeseman, director of the CMC.“The failure to amend this bill is absolutely nonsensical because it would be far too politically costly for Australian troops to ever assist foreign forces to use cluster munitions,” Cheeseman said.The Criminal Code Amendment (Cluster Munitions Prohibition) Bill 2010 allows Australian forces to directly assist in activities prohibited by the Convention during military operations with states not party to it, including assisting in the use of cluster munitions.Specifically, Section 72.42 of the draft law also allows states not party to transfer cluster munitions through, or store them on, Australian territory. These are activities that, in the CMC’s view, are clearly banned under the Convention.Australia’s House of Representatives approved the draft law in November 2010, and it was subsequently introduced in the Senate, where it had its first and second reading and was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade for review.Despite receiving submissions from the CMC and more than two dozen international non-governmental organizations strongly criticizing the draft law and proposing revisions to improve it, the committee recommended in March 2011 that no changes be made. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has also expressed serious concern over the legislation.“We are dismayed that the Australian government has failed to heed the call of civil society to fix this legislation so that it truly eliminates any possible role for Australia in the use of cluster munitions,” said Michelle Fahy from the Cluster Munition Coalition (Australia).“As expressly required by the treaty, Australia should in fact be encouraging its allies to join the ban treaty and to never use cluster munitions again,” Fahy added.The use of cluster munitions by Gadaffi’s forces in Mistrata last year received global condemnation, an example of the stigma these weapons carry.The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions is a landmark treaty banning the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions. It also requires their clearance and provision of assistance to victims. A total of 111 states have joined the convention, of which 75 are States Parties fully bound to meet the convention’s obligations. Australia is currently a signatory to the treaty and must enact domestic legislation in order to ratify the treaty and become a State Party.Cluster munitions, large weapons that disperse smaller submunitions, kill and injure civilians during attacks because they cannot distinguish between soldiers and civilians in the broad area they blanket. They continue to cause casualties after a conflict because many submunitions do not detonate on impact and linger like landmines for months or years to come.Governments are set to gather in Oslo, Norway this September for the Third Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.Full version of press release available to download here.For a more detailed breakdown and recommendations on the bill, please click here.