I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The principal purpose of this Bill is to make provision in domestic law for the obligations the State will assume under the Convention on Cluster Munitions. As the House will be aware, the convention was adopted by consensus at the conclusion of the Dublin diplomatic conference last May at Croke Park. It will be opened for signature at a ceremony in Oslo on 3 December and will enter into force six months after 30 states have ratified it.
The Government is committed to promoting the earliest possible entry into force of the convention and, as a demonstration of that commitment, we have given priority to the early publication and enactment of the present Bill, so that Ireland will be in a position both to sign and ratify the convention on 3 December. The programme for Government commits us to campaign for a complete ban on cluster munitions. I know this priority is also shared by all Members of the House. Deputies are aware of the loss of life and limb due to these horrendous weapons and have previously expressed their support for action to bring an end to this scourge.
The successful conclusion of negotiations on the Convention on Cluster Munitions under Irish chairmanship represents one of the most significant contributions to the development of international humanitarian law in recent years. I am very proud of the contribution made by officials of my Department and by members of the Defence Forces to this success.
International humanitarian law is the branch of the law concerned with the conduct of armed conflict. Once an armed conflict begins, international humanitarian law applies to limit its effects. Without it the barbarism and brutality of armed conflict would be without restriction. International humanitarian law limits the right of the parties to an armed conflict in their choice of methods and means of warfare. It also requires them to spare those who do not, or can no longer, take a direct part in hostilities, thereby protecting civilians, as well as captured and incapacitated combatants, from the effects of conflict.
The basic rule of international humanitarian law in the protection of the civilian population in time of armed conflict is that the parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives. The rule permits them to direct their operations against combatants and military objectives only. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited.
Where a weapon is incapable of distinguishing between civilian and combatant, or where it is prone to use in such a manner that the effect is similar, it will tend to violate this general basic rule. It has been found, however, that as with anti-personnel mines, the general rule has not been sufficient in itself to prevent the atrocious humanitarian consequences arising from the use of cluster munitions. A number of states continued to insist that it was possible to observe the basic rule and still use cluster munitions. For Ireland and our partners in the Oslo process, and for the many like-minded countries that joined us, it was clear that a new instrument of international humanitarian law dealing specifically with cluster munitions was essential.
Historically, cluster bombs have resulted in significant damage in every conflict in which they have been used and have repeatedly caused excessive harm to civilians. Among the first uses of cluster munitions was an attack on Grimsby during the Second World War, where many civilians were killed and injured by munitions which had not exploded upon impact. The weapon subsequently formed part of NATO arsenals during the Cold War. They were used on an enormous scale during the Vietnam War, with Laos becoming the most affected country in the world. Over 260 million sub-munitions were dropped during the Indochina conflict and at the end of the war it was estimated that some 80 million of these sub-munitions were left unexploded. They continue to cause civilian casualties, restrict access to land and impede social and economic development there.
Cluster munitions were also used extensively during the conflict in Kosovo. Almost 235,000 sub-munitions were dropped across the region against a range of mobile and static targets during the NATO campaign in 1999. Human Rights Watch has documented 75 civilian deaths and injuries as a direct result of cluster munitions during the bombing campaign. They have continued to affect civilians there, even after hostilities have ceased. To date, at least 152 post conflict casualties are estimated to have been caused by unexploded bomblets. In 2002, Landmine Action published detailed case-studies of social and economic impacts resulting from cluster munitions contamination in western Kosovo. These case studies highlighted issues such as the abandonment of traditional pastoral practices due to contamination of high summer pastures, extensive contamination making agricultural subsistence doubtful, and hampered infrastructure renovation, which in turn acted as a barrier to the return of displaced populations.
The high failure rate, large numbers of sub-munitions and extremely wide strike pattern means that even a single cluster munitions strike in or near an agricultural area can pose a significant long-term socioeconomic and physical threat to the population. Reports by the Iraq landmine impact survey in 2006 revealed that in some areas of southern Iraq, 100% of agricultural land and 95% of pasture land was inaccessible due to explosive remnants of war, a high proportion of which were cluster bomb sub-munitions. Due to desperation, necessity and the long time it takes to clear affected areas, many people take the conscious risk to return to their land before it has been cleared. This all too often results in the most tragic of consequences.
The 2006 Lebanon war offers a substantial example of the destruction and devastation that the widespread use of cluster munitions can cause. Some 4 million sub-munitions were fired into south Lebanon by Israel. This left approximately 1 million unexploded individual sub-munitions in the area. Areas contaminated included agricultural land and water and power infrastructure. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that in large areas of southern Lebanon at least 25% of the cultivated area was contaminated by unexploded cluster sub-munitions. By December 2007, 217 civilians in Lebanon had been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance, almost all by sub-munitions.
Most recently, it has been reported that both sides in the Russian-Georgian conflict engaged in the use of cluster munitions. It is our hope that even states which do not immediately become party to the new convention will, nonetheless, be inhibited from using cluster munitions by the stigmatisation effect of widespread adherence by others.
In the light of the absence of progress in the Geneva forum offered by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, and inspired by the process which led to the conclusion of the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines, Norway convened a meeting in Oslo in February 2007 of countries ready to explore ways to address the issue of cluster munitions in a determined and effective manner. Ireland was among the 46 states, including some cluster munition users and-or producers, such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, which committed themselves in the Oslo declaration to complete an international treaty by the end of 2008 to "prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians".
The Oslo process, as it became known, was driven forward by a core group of like-minded countries, comprising Norway, Ireland, Austria, the Holy See, Mexico, New Zealand, and Peru, and was characterised by a strong partnership between government, international organisations and civil society. From the outset, there was a strong humanitarian focus to ensure that any agreement reached would adequately address the numerous relief and development issues that are left in the wake of the use of cluster munitions. The attitude taken was that this was not a classic disarmament negotiation, where both sides faced each other in an atmosphere of mutual distrust, but rather a humanitarian one, where there was general agreement and commitment to our objective, but how best to achieve this had still to be established. I am pleased to say that this spirit of collaboration prevailed throughout and contributed to the excellent outcome.
Significantly, at the second international conference of the Oslo process in Lima, in May 2007, the composition of the process began to evolve and expand. Some 68 countries were represented there, many of them developing states from Latin America, Africa and Asia, including many states affected by cluster munitions. An enduring feature of the Oslo process is the increasingly widespread participation from developing and affected states.
Momentum for the Oslo process continued to grow exponentially and the third international conference in Vienna in December 2007 was attended by 138 countries. The core group discussion text tabled at the conference resulted in collective indications of support for a strong treaty that would focus not only on a widespread ban on cluster munitions but also on support for victim assistance and co-operation. The discussions also identified a number of potentially contentious issues, including the definition of cluster munitions and the so-called interoperability issue of military co-operation with states not party to a future treaty.
Far from derailing the Oslo process, these difficulties served to encourage us to redouble our efforts in order to achieve a successful outcome to the penultimate conference in Wellington in February 2008. Wellington was an extremely important stage in the process as the anticipated final declaration was intended to act as a basis on which formal treaty negotiations could be held in Dublin. Although the conference saw some tense and even difficult exchanges, much was achieved. The draft convention text was discussed in detail. While major differences remained on key issues of scope and definitions, as well as interoperability and transition periods, prospective solutions for many less contentious issues were identified. The Irish delegation worked extremely hard to encourage support for the Wellington declaration and by the conclusion of the conference there was an overwhelming endorsement by 82 states to associate themselves with the text. Japan and South Africa, neither of which had signed up to Oslo, also endorsed the declaration and committed to attend the Dublin conference. Commitment to the Wellington declaration was in effect the entry ticket to the Dublin conference and many more states committed themselves in the run-up to Dublin.
The Dublin diplomatic conference was attended by 127 states, with 107 attending as participants and 20 as observers. A large number of international, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations also attended as observers. Many significant differences needed to be resolved on key issues such as definitions, the possible period of transition to a ban and future military co-operation, including in UN mandated missions, with states not party to the convention. However, following two weeks of intense work and building on the preparatory discussions held at the earlier meetings, the conference adopted by consensus the text of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
I will now set out the main provisions of this ground breaking convention. There is a comprehensive prohibition on the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer of cluster munitions, as well as on assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in behaviour prohibited to a state party under the convention.
The definition of a cluster munition under the convention is comprehensive and will lead to the prohibition of all cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.