Cluster munitions – an opportunity for advocacy that cannot be ignored

By Hanna Coppes, Advocacy Research Intern, MCC Canada Ottawa Office

Cluster munitions are faulty weapons that need to be prohibited worldwide.

Many Canadians may not be aware of the destruction that can be caused by this military weapon, but to people who have faced  the realities of war in places such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya, this is not the case. In all of these countries, cluster munitions are a constant threat to safety for people even, in some cases, decades after a conflict has ended.

What are cluster munitions?

Cluster munitions are bombs that can be released from the air or from land, and are designed to explode on contact. A single bomb can release hundreds of submunitions, effectively covering an area as large as a football field. However, these submunitions have a failure rate of anywhere from 5 to 30 percent. Lying dormant, they can be ignited when disturbed by farmers working in their fields, or by children who are often intrigued by the bright colours of the weapons.

Canada joined 110 other nations in recognizing the destructive and inhumane realities that are caused by the weapon when we signed onto the Cluster Munitions Convention in 2008. This is a treaty that seeks the prohibition of the weapon in all circumstances.

The Canadian government is currently going through the process of ratifying the treaty by passing legislation that seeks to enshrine the ban of the weapon in Canadian law. Bill S-10 The Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act, was introduced in the Senate on April 25, 2012. When Parliament resumes in September, the bill will need to pass second reading before being sent to a Senate committee for study. After passing through three readings in the Senate, the bill will then move on to the House of Commons where it will go through the same process.

A cause for concern

As I have studied Bill S-10 over the past four months, it has become clear to me that there are many problems with this legislation. For example, as it now stands, the current legislation allows Canadian forces to use cluster munitions when working in joint military operations with countries that are not part of the convention (such as the United States).

This part of the legislation reeks of compliance with military interests rather than fulfilling the obligation, as set out in the Cluster Munitions Convention, to be a global leader in seeking the ban of this destructive weapon.

Canadian forces have never used or produced cluster munitions, and are already starting to destroy their own stockpiles. How does reserving the right to use them in joint operations promote peace or provide new life for victims?

The role of the Christian advocate

Through my time interning with MCC this summer, Bill S-10 has provided a good opportunity to learn more about advocacy in general.

Issues like ratifying the Cluster Munitions Convention and tackling the growing influence of the military in policy decisions seem overwhelming. What can one person, or even one organization hope to do? However, when advocacy is informed by the experiences of victims of these destructive weapons, and when it joins with the efforts of coalition partners such as Mines Action Canada and Project Ploughshares, that one voice becomes a multitude.

Seeking a ban on cluster munitions is an admirable and necessary task for the Canadian government to take on. But there is still work to be done to ensure that Canadians do not play a part in the use of the weapon at any time and for any reason. As Christian advocates, I think we need to speak out against this deadly weapon in order to stand in solidarity and loving care with those who are vulnerable to its effects.


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