Cluster Munitions Bill

April 10th, 2008 - Pat Breen

Private Members Dail Eireann 10th April 2008

Cluster Munitions Bill 2008 – Deputy Pat Breen

I congratulate my colleague Billy Timmins for bringing forward this Bill and as other speakers have acknowledged he has a wealth of experience in this area having served with the UN and as a former member of the Irish Defence Forces. I am disappointed that Minister Ahern is unwilling to accept the Fine Gael Bill and instead has chosen to await the deliberations of the Croke Park Conference. Ireland was in at the start of this process as a member of the core group of the Oslo Agreement along with Austria, the Holy See, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway and Peru and has played a key role in progressing this work to date, that is why I feel that Ireland should continue to push the AGENDA and with the International Diplomatic Conference taking place in Dublin on the 19th to 30th May next, this is our opportunity as a nation to convince those countries who are still not committed to an outright ban to come on board.

Significant progress has been made since the time when the late Princess Diana was photographed in a flak jacket and a ballistic helmet touring an Angolan minefield.

Her actions influenced the signing of the Ottawa Treaty which created an international ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines. Since that first conference took place in Oslo progress has been made at further conferences in Lima, Vienna and recently in Wellington. At the first ever meeting of Africa countries on cluster bombs, 38 out of 39 countries attending the meeting endorsed a strong political “Livingstone Declaration” committing them to negotiating a global ban on the weapons at the Dublin conference. South Africa was the only descenting voice; arguing that cluster bombs are 98% reliant.

Other countries like the US, France, Japan, UK and Germany are proposing “transition periods”, and are making efforts to have any international agreement watered down. In the US the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill 2008 sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy and Dianne Feinstein passed through the Senate, the provisions of which have been cautiously welcomed by human rights and humanitarian groups. However, the US ban is for one year only, what I what to see is a complete ban on the use of cluster bombs.

I welcome the Ministers commitment to the setting up a National Committee on international humanitarian law which will have a key role in making recommendations and proposals for incorporating humanitarian law treaties into Irish Law. Although cluster bombs fall under the general rules of international humanitarian law we still have no international agreement on their complete ban. It is important therefore that there is no further delay in setting up the Committee and that the work of preparing the legislative programme for the Dublin conference gets underway immediately.

Sections 7 and 8 of the Fine Gael Bill provide for the reporting requirements for banks and financial institutions and allows for the creation of a Register of Prohibited Investment in cluster munitions.

The Minister’s commitment that no public funds will be invested in cluster munitions by way of the National Pensions Reserve Fund is welcome.

The Ministers promises legislation will be brought forward to give affect to this, this provision is incorporated in the Fine Gael Bill now before this House and any amendments could have been put forward at Committee Stage. New Zealand also appears ready to support a similar move. The Guardians of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund recently announced their intention to exclude companies that remain involved in the manufacture of cluster munitions and according to reports an “exclusion plan” will be implemented when New Zealand signs the treaty prohibiting cluster munitions. I would urge the Minister to convince all countries who sign up to any new treaty on cluster munitions to support this line.

Section 6 provides for the confiscation and destroying of cluster ammunitions while it is very unlikely to have to be enacted here in this country, many countries continue to suffer the consequences of unexploded bomblets long after conflicts have ended. The area or as it is known the footprint of a single cluster munitions can be as large as two or three football pitches. Handicap International studied the effects of cluster bombs in 24 countries and regions and found that civilians make up 98% of those killed or injured and that within that 27 per cent of the casualties were children. In Iraq in 2003, 13,000 cluster bombs with nearly 2 million bomb lets were used. In Afghanistan in 2001, 1,228 cluster bombs with 248,056 bomb lets were used. Most recently it is estimated that Israel dropped 4 million bomb lets in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah also used cluster bombs on targets in Israel. During the bombing of Afghanistan the Red Cross had to issue warnings to the Afghan children not to touch or play with the bomblets that were dropped.

In the village of Qala Shatar near Harat, for instance, a 12-year old boy picked up the bright yellow soda-can losing his arm. It is not alone though in Afghanistan and Iraq that civilians especially children continue to suffer.

In the Rashd Valley in Tajikistan on the Afghan border the government is battling to clear the bomb lets. Samir a ten year old boy who two years ago went out to cut wood in the forest to keep his family warm found a shiny metal ball, Samir was one of the lucky ones because he survived having thrown it a long way away from him when it exploded, but the blast shattered his knee and left him half blind. “Little Bells” they refer to cluster bomblets in Serbia and Croatia. On June 12th 2007, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia held the former president of the Serbian Republic of Kranjina criminally liable for deaths and injuries resulting from cluster munitions rocket attacks on Zagreb. In fact in some attacks on Zagreb civilians were intentionally targeted. In post-war Kosovo unexploded cluster bomblets caused more civilian deaths than landmines. In the 2006 Lebanon War an eleven year old boy, who was too engrossed watching a bulldozer demolishing his neighbour’s house in the Lebanese village of al-Sowana, was killed when he failed to notice one of the pine cones fall from the branch above his head.

The majority of casualties are from poorer countries with millions of devices scattered over hundreds of square kilometres in many countries, the sad legacy of years of conflict, this humanitarian suffering that continues in numerous countries plagued by the lasting effects of these bomblets.

Governments can no longer ignore the long-term effects of this weapon which can remain dormant for years before being detected.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has called for the urgent conclusion of a global pact to ban cluster weapons even if the big superpowers like Russia, China and the United States are not ready to join. However, I do not want to see any exclusion or derogations from a new Treaty, countries should sign up to a complete ban. We must seize this opportunity, Ireland can play a major role and that is why I feel that the Irish Government should be leading the way by having our own legislation in place before the Croke Park conference.

The Late Princess Diana said during her visit to that Angolan minefield, that “The world is too little aware of the waste of life, limb and land which anti-personnel landmines are causing among some of the poorest people on earth”. We have banned anti-personnel landmines, now let us take the next step and ban cluster munitions. We must prevent the next large-scale humanitarian catastrophe before more countless innocent people are injured or killed. Deputy Timmins Bill charts the way forward for the Government and I urge the Minister to take on board the proposals from this entire debate and I wish him well in striving to secure agreement at the international diplomatic conference in Croke Park in May.