A five-day international conference in Wellington last month to develop a historic treaty banning cluster munitions worldwide has brought government representatives face to face with victims of the cluster bombs their countries have produced.
Australian Sister of Mercy Denise Coghlan of Jesuit Services came from Cambodia where she has worked for the past 20 years with people who have lost legs to landmines left over from the Pol Pot regime.
‘Our mission is to enable people to tell their own stories about how they have been injured by the bombs. We have some expert campaigners.’
Sr Denise talked of one girl who started campaigning when she was 12 against the sorts of weapons that took her leg. She went to the United Nations meeting in Vienna in 1995 and asked them to ban landmines.
‘She says she failed because when she got there and saw all the people at the meeting, she forgot what she was going to say. That was 10 years ago. Now she’s back campaigning for a blanket ban on cluster bombs. Last year she asked the Oslo process not to be “wishy washy” in their ban but to make it a strong treaty against cluster bombs.’
The push from the meeting in Wellington was to ban all kinds of cluster munitions. There were nine governments trying to weaken the treaty by creating loopholes to allow production. Japan has the support of Australia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Slovakia, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
These were concerned that when they sign the treaty it would be difficult for them to participate in joint operations with countries such as the US which are not party to the treaty. This issue has been called in military speak ‘interoperability’.
Although these nine countries said they were committed to the process to ban cluster munitions, they did not want to be prevented from helping other countries like the US to use cluster munitions.
The February conference was the last time for negotiating before a three-week conference in Dublin where the treaty will be drawn up.
‘There is a need to push public opinion to get people really mobilised against cluster munitions,’ she said.
Sr Denise works at a training centre for people who have lost legs to landmines or cluster bombs. The centre used to be a factory for storing armaments and in the Pol Pot regime it was a killing field.
Sr Denise said the conference was an important vehicle for bringing together the producers of the armaments which are so damaging to civilians and those victims of cluster bombs. Some people had been visibly affected by hearing the stories of people who had lost limbs as a result of the bombs which splinter on impact sending missiles indiscriminately.
There was a great deal of support for a comprehensive ban on cluster munitions.
There will be more about the conference in next month’s issue of Wel-com.
For more information: www.stopclustermunitions.org/