11 July 2006

Austrian Parliament to Host Seminar Addressing the Serious Harm Caused By Cluster Munitions

Vienna 11 July 2006 In the face of growing pressure around Europe to stop the use of cluster munitions, a seminar will take place today in the Austrian Parliament hosted by the Socialist and Green parties. Following the seminar these parties plan to table a resolution calling on the government to declare an immediate moratorium on the use of cluster munitions. Organised by the Austrian branch of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, the seminar will hear presentations by experts from Handicap International, the Red Cross and other organisations.  Over the past 40 years the use of cluster munitions has caused a consistent and predictable pattern of humanitarian devastation: the wide area effects of the weapon have killed and injured civilians during attacks and the large number of unexploded bomblets have threatened lives and livelihoods long after conflicts. There are all too many examples of this devastation. In Hilla, Iraq in 2003, 90 per cent of the civilian casualties were due to cluster munitions. Research in Southeast Asia has shown that at least 60% of casualties from unexploded cluster munitions are children.  Measures both nationally and internationally have failed to deliver the protection to civilians from the indiscriminate effects of this weapon. Austria was one of 13 countries to propose a ban on cluster munitions at a diplomatic conference in 1974. Yet, three decades later, Austria is one of 73 countries that stockpile this unjust weapon. Disturbingly, Austria is not one of the several countries that have called for specific international work on cluster munitions to address the humanitarian problem. Faced with this lack of international progress and under public pressure led by CMC member Handicap International, Belgium took the bold step in February 2006 of banning cluster munitions. National governments must now follow Belgium’s lead and work towards a ban on this weapon. Norway’s government has already committed itself to the goal of an international ban on cluster bombs and declared a moratorium on cluster munitions in June 2006. Austria should do the same. Austria has been a leader on humanitarian and disarmament issues, notably during negotiation of the ban on anti-personnel mines. The international convention on inhumane weapons meets for its Third Review Conference in November in Geneva. This meeting represents an opportunity for Austria to acknowledge the humanitarian harm caused by cluster munitions and to support new negotiations on an international legal instrument that will stop the weapon from killing and injuring more civilians in the future.