As we were racing towards a stunning victory for Labor, cluster bomb duds were going off by the dozen in Southern Lebanon.
Usually, they only go off one at a time as the weeks go by. It is estimated that about 30 Lebanese have been killed, and another 100 wounded by some half a million of the duds left at the end of hostilities between Lebanon and Israel, in August of 2006.
But last week, there was widespread hail in Southern Lebanon. Hailstones the size of walnuts fell in the valleys and fields and orchards, and set off some of the many thousands which didn’t explode according to plan.
The Lebanon Star called the event “A Blessing in Disguise”. To villagers who lived through that conflict, the sharp, crackling blasts were a grim reminder of last year’s chaos and grief and of this year’s lost crops.
Many of the 500,000 duds have been removed, but how do you clean up all half a million live cluster bombs?
In traditionally farmed areas, it usually falls to carefully trained villagers who locate and destroy them, one at a time, for years afterward.
Rae McGrath founded the Mines Advisory Group (MAG). He is currently with Handicap International Network, where he is the International Spokesperson on Cluster Munitions. He is passionate about cluster munitions. The MAG, and he personally, spent some years in the 1990’s teaching Laotian villagers to remove UXO, mainly clusters, from their fields and villages.
He knows what happens on the ground, and he has no patience with the arguments currently being made by the Australian diplomatic delegations, at conferences aiming to fast-track a ban on cluster munitions.
The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (the CCW), part of the Geneva Convention, was expected to find a solution to the humanitarian problems caused by cluster munitions. But, because it relies on consensus, it has failed even to mandate itself to negotiate any meaningful change. Last month, it, could not even agree a timeframe to resolve this humanitarian emergency. The Oslo Process began officially in February this year, because official talks have dragged on and accomplished virtually nothing since the successful Land Mine Ban campaign won the world an international treaty, ten years ago.
The “Oslo Process” meeting, being held in Vienna from December 4-6 will engage 130 countries, at the latest count.
Australia’s policy towards cluster munitions is not progressive. At the very time that 85 countries are seeking a treaty to ban them, Australia has decided to buy them. The ALP, in a policy statement published on the Peace Tasmania website, states:
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