Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Make Cluster Bombs History

At the Pax Christi seminar on cluster munitions (from left): Canon Patrick Comerford; Michael D. Higgins TD, President of the Labour Party and Labour spokesperson on Foreign Affairs; Joe Little of RTÉ; and the President of Pax Christi, Bishop Raymond Field

Patrick Comerford

I was asked this week to chair a seminar organised by Pax Christi, the International Catholic Peace Movement, on the topic: “Towards a Comprehensive Ban on Cluster Bombs.” This morning’s seminar also saw the launch of Pax Christi’s campaign, “Make Cluster Bombs History.”

Originally, I was going to the seminar as an observer on behalf of Archbishop John Neill, so it came as a surprise and an honour when I was then asked to chair the seminar. The Nobel Laureate, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, was billed to speak, but was unable to attend because of a family bereavement. But the other speakers included the President of Pax Christi Ireland, Bishop Raymond Field, Michael D. Higgins, President of the Labour Party and Labour spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, and Joe Little of RTÉ, who spoke on the effects of cluster munitions in Lebanon.

The organisers also screened a short film on an aerial cluster-bomb attack and Richard Downes’s personal encounter with cluster bombs in Iraq.

Cluster bombs fail to distinguish between military targets and civilians. As speaker after speaker pointed out at the seminar, a war in which cluster bombs are used is a war against civilians, and cluster bombs continue to kill and maim civilians many years after they have been used and a conflict has ended.

Pax Christi’s efforts to secure a comprehensive prohibition on cluster bombs this year evolves out of an international conference Pax Christi organised in 2003 in Dublin Castle on “Explosive Remnants of War.”

As a member of the Oslo Process to prohibit cluster munitions, Ireland is hosting and chairing a two-week meeting of negotiations in Croke Park, Dublin, in May 2008. Over 100 countries are expected to take part in the Dublin meeting.

However, the Oslo process is at a critical juncture, with some countries, including Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Netherlands digging their heels in against a complete ban on cluster bombs. According to Tony D’Costa of Pax Christi, “They would like to ban some types, as they are under pressure to do so, but would like to retain others and develop some new types. A similar situation was faced when the landmine treaty was negotiated. At the end, Ireland and Norway saved the day as they were not ready to compromise.”

He says that at the meeting in Dublin in May, “Ireland, as chair of the meeting, will have to be confident and very strong and not allow the draft treaty text to be weakened in any form.”

Two EU member states – Austria and Belgium – have already passed laws banning the production, use, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Now Pax Christi is calling on the Irish Government without delay:

● to join Belgium and Austria in introducing legislation to give immediate effect to a ban on the production, stockpiling, transfer and use of cluster munitions as a contribution towards securing a complete ban on cluster munitions;
● to prohibit the participation by the Irish Defence Forces in joint military operations involving the use of cluster munitions;
● to take all necessary steps to give effect to a ban on investment of public funds in companies involved in the production of cluster munitions and other weapons systems;
● to take all necessary steps to ban cluster munitions in advance of the May 2008 Dublin meeting on cluster munitions, reflecting earlier Irish leadership in the process leading to the treaty banning landmines;
● to increase funding for clearance, risk education to protect vulnerable populations and the rehabilitation of survivors; and
● to contribute by means of these steps to an outcome of the ongoing negotiation on cluster munitions with a view to achieving their total elimination.

You can support this campaign by writing to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Dermot Ahern, 80 Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, ahead of the May conference.

Pax Christi Ireland is at www.paxchristi.ie