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Issue #1532      25 January 2012

Australian Draft Bill on cluster bombs

Australia is about to pass legislation in order to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and Cluster Munition Coalition Australia (CMCA) has several concerns that the proposed text does not reflect the spirit of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Main concerns

The overriding concern is that the proposed legislation demonstrates a weak interpretation of the Convention. As such it is not consistent with the spirit of the Convention which strives “to unequivocally, and for all time, end the suffering caused by cluster munitions.”

  • Interoperability – because the proposed legislation may allow Australian forces to assist with activities that are prohibited by the Convention. The spirit of article 21 in the Convention on Cluster Munitions was to protect troops of signatory countries from prosecution for actions by other nations not party to the conventions. It was never intended to allow either limited or unlimited collaboration with non-signatory parties.
  • Jurisdiction – because the proposed legislation allows foreign forces to use Australian territory to stockpile and transit cluster bombs. This is clearly facilitating the use of cluster bombs.
  • Retention – because the proposed legislation allows Australia to retain cluster bombs without specifying any reporting obligations and setting a minimum number.
  • Positive Obligations – because the proposed legislation does not mention any of the positive obligations to assist in clearance, victim assistance and to universalise the treaty.
  • The proposed legislation does not prohibit indirect investments in cluster bombs.

Fix the Bill campaign

Members of the CMC Australia as well as overseas participants have made more than 15 submissions to the Senate Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, enumerating our concerns with the proposed legislation. As an adjunct to this we believe it is essential to educate and engage key Senate members, MPs, media and other key players. Therefore we are conducting lobby meetings with voting members of the Senate Committee as well as other key Parliamentarians from the House of Representatives.

We hope to ensure that the voting members of the committee will be able to ask all relevant and important questions to the witnesses during the public hearing on March 3. Putting the cluster bomb bill on the agenda is vital, and CMC Australia is therefore currently also working on getting broad media coverage on the issue. Later CMC Australia will organise a parliamentary briefing in Canberra between March 22 and June, depending on when the Senate will debate the cluster bomb bill. It is still unclear when this will happen.

Goals

  • To ban cluster bombs in Australia, its region and the world.
  • To promote strong Australian legislation and implementation that reflects the spirit and intent of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
  • To educate and engage Senate members, MPs, political leaders, media and other key stakeholders about the convention on cluster munitions.
  • Organise a Parliamentary Briefing for senators, MPs and political leaders
  • Organise a reception in conjunction with the Parliamentary Briefing .
  • Organise a cluster munitions photo exhibition for the briefing at Parliament House.

Obligations include to:

  • assist in clearance of contaminated areas,
  • assist victims,
  • assist other states parties to meet their obligations under the convention,
  • work to universalise the convention

The CMCA believes the proposed legislation is a weak interpretation of the convention, and thus fails to uphold and abide by the spirit and intent of the treaty. The stated aim of the convention is “to unequivocally, and for all time, end the suffering caused by cluster munitions.” To achieve this humanitarian aim it is not enough to restrict or limit the use of cluster munitions; we must aim to eradicate them and legislate accordingly in strong and unequivocal terms.  

Next article – “The seafarers’ bill of rights”

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