24 October 2016 : A newsletter of the Australian Jesuits

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Cluster convention becomes law


On the eve of the passing into force of the Cluster Munitions Convention, Cambodian-based Jesuit Fr Enrique Figaredo has called on the Australian government to ratify the historic agreement, which prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of the insidious and destructive weapons.


Although Australia is a signatory to the convention, it cannot become a state party to it until it ratifies, accepts, approves or accesses the convention. The convention will become binding international law when it enters into force on 1 August 2010. The first meeting of states parties will take place in Vientiane, Laos, from 8 - 12 November 2010.


Following its success as part of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines - which was a joint winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize - Jesuit Service Cambodia (JSC) has been instrumental in lobbying for the banning of cluster munitions. Landmine survivor and anti-weapons campaigner with JSC, Tun Channareth, says that cluster bombs, which are particularly prevalent in the tiny country of Laos, inflict terrible injuries on the people who mistakenly pick them up.


'For the people in Laos, they find some steel to collect and sell at the market. Every house has a metal detector to detect steel under the ground. [Cluster bombs] sink into the soil - two or three or five centimetres into the ground. After that, if children or men or women touch it, it blows up and they will lose some part of the body or they will die. They pick something up thinking it is steel to sell at the market but it's actually a cluster bomb. They dig, then they touch to pick it up. When they do it blows up.'


In countries such as Laos and Cambodia, whose rural areas are defined by tight-knit, subsistence village units, cluster bombs can destroy whole families, says Channareth.


'If one family has eight members, and if one person is injured by cluster munitions, another seven members lose hope. They must sell everything they have and use it for the survival - medicine, hospital treatment - of the person who is injured. Most of them have lost both arms, both eyes.'


Cluster munitions are large bombs which disperse thousands of smaller 'bomblets' over a wide area. Whilst bomblets are designed to explode before or upon impact, this doesn't always occur, and unexploded ordinances can lie buried and dormant for decades. And although advocates like Channareth conduct tireless education campaigns about the dangers of cluster munitions, too often the demands of daily life - tilling the soil, searching for scrap metal - outweigh the prospective dangers faced by villagers.


'Right now they know [the dangers] very well, especially in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. But the very important thing is our daily life, what we can eat.'


Outside those countries that have signed the convention, says Channareth, there are those who 'still use, still have stockpiles, still promote cluster munitions. I want every country to disperse stockpiles, to give more support for the clearing of munitions, and no more use, no more production.'


Having lost his legs in a landmine explosion in 1982, Channareth knows the agony that comes with such brutal and life-changing injury.


'Always when I meet the people who suffered from landmines or war or cluster munitions, I try to go closer to them, because we are brothers and sisters. We are travelling in the same boat. Mostly they live in the dark, they don't know any more. If they have no family, how can they live? So I must go close to them and try to find the best way to promote them, give hope, give life and a future to them.'


Find out how to lobby the Australian government to ratify the convention or to take further action here http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/take-action/government/


By Catherine Marshall


Pictured: Channareth (Photo Catherine Marshall).



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