Fix the Cluster Munition Prohibition Bill or victims won't have a leg to stand on (15 Nov 2011)
When Mohamad Hassan Sultan and four other boys were innocently watching rubble being removed from a house destroyed in a cluster bomb strike, a truck bumped a tree, dislodging a cluster bomb. It detonated by Mohamad’s feet and blew up into him. He was killed and all his friends were injured. His shoes were blown off with parts of his feet and ankles still in them.
Australia is about to pass legislation to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. This important international treaty bans cluster bombs, an indiscriminate class of weapon known to cause significant and long-lasting civilian harm, particularly to children. However, the proposed legislation contains serious flaws which undermine the whole purpose of the treaty. In particular, the legislation allows Australian troops to directly and actively assist in the use of cluster bombs. It also explicitly allows non-state parties to stockpile cluster bombs on Australian soil and permits them to transit cluster bombs through Australian ports and airspace. No other ratifying country has provided such a blanket exemption.
Open letter to Minister for Defence, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Attorney-General (6 July 2011)
Dear Minister Smith, Minister Rudd and Attorney General McClelland
In 2008 you, Minister Smith, signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions for Australia. This important international treaty bans cluster bombs, an indiscriminate class of weapon known to cause significant and long-lasting civilian harm, particularly to children. We wholeheartedly endorse the treaty’s aims and congratulate the government on having signed it.
In order to ratify the treaty, Australia must pass legislation to implement the treaty’s obligations in our domestic law. However, the proposed legislation, shortly to be debated in the Senate, contains serious flaws which undermine the whole purpose of the treaty.
The treaty contains a clause which allows state parties to continue cooperating in military alliance with countries not party to the treaty. This clause protects troops of state parties if they are inadvertently involved in cluster bomb use during these joint operations. This is necessary and sensible, particularly for Australia, given that our major ally the USA has no intention of joining the ban on cluster bombs.
The problem with the government’s proposed legislation is that it goes much further than is necessary to maintain our military alliances. The legislation allows Australian troops to directly and actively assist in the use of cluster bombs. It also explicitly allows non-state parties to stockpile cluster bombs on Australian soil and permits them to transit cluster bombs through Australian ports and airspace. No other ratifying country has provided such a blanket exemption.
These exemptions are unnecessary at best and add little or nothing to our national security. At worst, they run directly counter to the treaty’s intent by setting a precedent which explicitly facilitates the ongoing use of cluster bombs.
In a submission to the government, the International Committee of the Red Cross said the abovementioned problems with the proposed legislation “would have the unfortunate consequences of effectively permitting activities that could undermine the objectives of the Convention and contribute to the continued use of cluster munitions rather than further their elimination.” We agree.
The goal of the Convention on Cluster Munitions is clear. It aims to eradicate cluster bombs and put an end to the suffering they cause for all time. We therefore seek your support in ensuring that Parliament amends the draft legislation to reflect and fulfil that aim.
Greg Barns, Barrister, and National President, Australian Lawyers Alliance
Paul Barratt AO, Former Secretary, Department of Defence, and former Deputy Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO, Professor of Law, Public Policy Institute, Australian Catholic University
Julian Burnside AO QC, Barrister
Professor Hilary Charlesworth, ARC Laureate Fellow and Director, Centre for International Governance and Justice, ANU
Sr Denise Coghlan RSM AM, Head of the Jesuit Refugee Service, Cambodia
Tim Costello AO, Chief Executive Officer, World Vision Australia
Mary Crock, Professor of Public Law, The University of Sydney
Bonnie Docherty, Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, and Senior Researcher, Human Rights Watch
The Hon John Dowd AO QC, President, ActionAid Australia
Alistair Gee, Executive Director, Act for Peace, NCCA
Dr Norman Gillespie, Chief Executive Officer, UNICEF Australia
General Peter Gration, Former Chief of Defence Force
Jack de Groot, Chief Executive Officer, Caritas Australia
Brigadier Adrian d’Hagé, AM, MC, Author
Michele Harris OAM
Andrew Hewett, Executive Director, Oxfam Australia
Dr Andrew Jacubowicz, Professor of Sociology, University of Technology Sydney
John Jeffries, National Director, CBM Australia
Stephen Keim SC, Barrister-at-Law, and President, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
Professor John Langmore, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne
Archie Law, Chief Executive Officer, ActionAid Australia
Carmen Lawrence ,Winthrop Professor, University of Western Australia
Philip Lynch, Executive Director, Human Rights Law Centre
Dr Francis Macnab, AM, Executive Minister, St Michael’s Uniting Church, Melbourne
Claire Mallinson, National Director, Amnesty International Australia
Professor William Maley, AM FASSA
Professor Jane McAdam, Director of Research, Faculty of Law, University of NSW
Professor Emeritus Ron McCallum AO, Senior Australian of the Year 2011
Dr Jeff McMullen AM, Writer, Foreign Correspondent, Filmmaker and CEO (Honorary) Ian Thorpe’s Fountain for Youth
Graeme Mundine, Executive Officer, Aboriginal Catholic Ministry
The Hon Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC, Former Chief Justice of the Family Court; former Judge Advocate General of the Australian Defence Force
Marc Purcell, Executive Director, Australian Council for International Development
Professor Stuart Rees AM, Director, Sydney Peace Foundation
Professor Neal Robinson, Deputy Director, Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies, Australian National University
The Hon Susan Ryan AO, Chair, Australian Human Rights Group
Associate Professor Ben Saul, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney
Professor Gerry Simpson, Director, Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law, University of Melbourne, and Visiting Professor, London School of Economics
Nigel Spence, Chief Executive Officer, ChildFund Australia
Dr Timothy Stephens, Director, Sydney Centre for International Law
Lorel Thomas, National Coordinator, Australian Network to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions
Isabel Thomas Dobson, Moderator, Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
Christine Walton, Executive Officer, Australian Disability and Development Consortium (ADDC)
Professor Emeritus John Warhurst, School of Politics and International Relations, Australian National University
Dr Bill Williams, President, Medical Association for Prevention of War
Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Campaign Ambassador, International Campaign to Ban Landmines
Matthew Zagor, Senior Lecturer, ANU Law School and board member, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights