On Wednesday 6 July, the Senate will debate the proposed Criminal Code Amendment (Cluster Munitions Prohibition) Bill 2010.
In principle, the draft legislation is positive, as it ratifies the Australian government’s commitment to ban the use of these weapons under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, of which Australia is a signatory.
However, the proposed legislation contains a number of loopholes which undermine and dilute the main objective of the Convention. These include:
- allowing Australian forces to assist other nations (which are not signatories to the Convention) to use this form of warfare;
- giving foreign forces the ability to stockpile cluster munitions on Australian territory; and
- permitting Australia to stockpile live cluster bombs without specifying any reporting obligations and setting a minimum number, as required by the Convention.
Nor does the proposed legislation make any reference to Australia’s obligations to assist in the clearance of cluster munitions, or provide assistance to the victims. And while the Bill prohibits direct investment in the production of cluster munitions, it does not prevent all investment in companies which produce cluster munitions.
Almost all the victims of cluster bombs are civilians, and one-third of this group are children. Deployed from the air or ground artillery, each cluster bomb can contain hundreds of ÌÓbomblets’. Often they are brightly coloured, and thousands of children have been killed or maimed (often losing their hand and arm) when picking up these objects out of curiosity.
Nigel Spence, CEO of ChildFund Australia, says: “In Laos, the release of more than 270 million sub-munitions during the Vietnam war continues to have a disastrous impact on communities today – over 30 years after the war ended.
“This very real and present danger not only puts children and their families at risk of injury or death, but it also affects the availability of safe play spaces for children and the amount of land available to grow food and to make a living. For children and families living in poverty, the long-term impact of this form of warfare is devastating.”
ChildFund Australia is a member of the Cluster Munition Coalition Australia.