The Australian Greens expressed outrage today at revelations the Australian Government deliberately undermined an international treaty to ban cluster bombs.
Senator Scott Ludlam, a member of the Senate Committee investigating Australia's own cluster munitions bill, said the Government's covert manoeuvres with US authorities to seriously weaken the treaty represent "a stunning betrayal of all who hope to protect civilians from the horrors of war".
WikiLeaks has published cables from the US embassy in Canberra that reveal the Rudd government told the US in 2007 it was prepared to withdraw from negotiations on a global ban if key issues were not addressed - principally the inclusion of a loophole to allow signatories to co-operate with military forces still using cluster munitions.
"We had serious concerns about flaws in the proposed bill, and now the reason it was so weak has become clear - the Government worked to cripple the global ban on cluster bombs in order to protect strong ties with the US military. It is nothing more or less than disgusting," said Senator Ludlam.
Federal Parliament is now considering the bill to ratify Australia's signature of the cluster munitions convention. Senator Ludlam has previously criticised flaws in the bill that would still allow Australia to store, transport and assist in the use of cluster bombs.
"Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic said this bill could be interpreted to, in their words, ‘allow Australian military personnel to load and aim the gun, so long as they did not pull the trigger'. This is a shameful outcome," he said.
US diplomatic reports show Australian authorities secretly lobbied Asian countries on the issue and sought advice from Washington on which African countries might be recruited to vote with Australia on parts of the treaty text. Australia, together with Britain, Canada and Japan, was ultimately successful in securing the loophole on defence co-operation.
"Cluster munitions casing breaks open mid-air, releasing sub-munitions and saturating a large area, within which anybody - military or civilian - is likely to be killed or seriously injured. As many of the sub-munitions fail to explode on impact, huge quantities remain on the ground - a threat for years. 98% of the victims of ‘left over' cluster munitions are civilians. These weapons kill and maim people for decades after the fighting is over. They must be eradicated," said Senator Ludlam.
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