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Issue #1497      13 April 2011

Cluster bombs bill needs amendments

Australia is a signatory to the international Cluster Munitions Convention. It is one of 108 countries that rightly consider cluster bombs as indiscriminate weapons whose production and use should be universally prohibited.

A cluster bomb consists of hundreds of small bomblets that are dispersed over a large area from either the air or ground. About 30 percent of those do not explode on impact and turn into de facto landmines. Some of them are designed to look like toys and foodstuffs – in Afghanistan, for instance they were the same bright yellow colour as food parcels and the children who picked them up were either killed or maimed.

It is estimated that about 98 percent of victims are civilians and one third of those are children. Cluster munitions have been used for 50 years and they continue to kill people long after a war is over. In Laos, for instance, an estimated 50-70 million bomblets are still killing people 35 years after they were dropped. They are a legacy of the US Vietnam war in which some 200-250 million cluster bombs were dropped.

Following the release of a Senate Committee report it is clear that Australia is likely to ratify the international convention.

However, it is essential that the proposed Criminal Code Amendment Bill (Cluster Munitions Prohibition) which is currently before the Senate should be amended to take into account the following concerns raised by more than 35 organisations of the Cluster Munitions Coalition.

  • Close loopholes that permit Australia to assist the US or other countries which are not signatories to the convention to use these weapons;
  • No cluster bombs stockpiles on Australian soil;
  • Retention of live cluster bombs in Australia should be banned;
  • There is no prohibition on indirect investment in cluster bomb production:
  • The bill is currently out of line with international standards and expectations. The Senate should urgently amend the bill and send it back to the House of Representatives. The existing loopholes should be eliminated.  

Next article – Memories of the Domain

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