The Government has said it will progress the Cluster Munition Prohibition Bill through the Senate this year. This is despite strong opposition to the bill in its current form by human rights groups and Australian NGOs including ChildFund, the former Australian Defence Force chief General Peter Gration and former Secretary of the Department of Defence Paul Barratt – all of whom have signed an Open Letter to the Government asking for amendments to the bill.
The current wording of the bill would allow Australian troops to directly assist our ally, the USA (which has not signed up to the cluster bomb ban), to continue using cluster bombs. It also explicitly allows non-state parties – in practice, the USA – to stockpile cluster bombs on Australian soil and permits them to transit cluster bombs through Australian ports and airspace. This is at odds with the international treaty the bill intends to ratify, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which seeks to ban cluster bombs once and for all.
While ChildFund welcomes recent statements made by the Australian Government that foreign stockpiling will not be authorised, these statements contradict the legislation itself which explicitly permits such stockpiling to occur.
Cluster munitions are among the most indiscriminate and cruel weapons in the world, killing and maiming innocent children and families not only during wars but for decades after.
In Laos, unexploded bombs from the Vietnam War still kill around 300 people every year – close to 100 of them children. Children are at particular risk of being killed or injured by cluster munitions as they are small, round and often brightly coloured – easily mistaken for toys.
In Nonghet district, where ChildFund has worked with MAG Laos to clear bombs and build safe schools, children have expressed their fear of stepping on bombs or losing their parents.
“We don’t have a toilet. We go in the forest, but we are afraid of stepping on bombs,” says Thay, 12.
“I’m afraid that when my parents farm or my siblings play, a bomb will explode under them,” says Yaitter, 9.
“When I see people playing with bombs or when my parents go to the field to clear land, there are many bombs – I feel scared. When my parents arrive home, I am relieved,” says Xia, 12.
Mr Spence says: “If the Senate passes the Cluster Munition Prohibition Bill in its current form, Australia will have one of the weakest national laws relating to the international ban on cluster bombs. It sends a very mixed message and is not in the spirit of the Convention it is supposed to be honouring.
“We ask the Australian Government to strengthen the legislation by removing the two serious loopholes it includes, which will increase protection for children so that future generations do not have to suffer the way children in Laos, Afghanistan and other countries are suffering now.”
ChildFund Australia is a member of the Cluster Munition Coalition Australia, an international civil society campaign working to eradicate cluster munitions, prevent further casualties from these weapons and put an end for all time to the suffering they cause.