12 June 2014

Campaigners demand fair play for kids at risk from Brazil’s cluster bomb policy

As football fever seizes the world during the month ahead, we take a closer look at World Cup host Brazil’s cluster bomb policy and ask, is it fair play that global cluster bomb contamination risks the lives and limbs of thousands of young people wanting to enjoy the ‘beautiful game’?

Mini And His Friends In Sweden C Per Friske599x350
Mini and his Laotian friends playing football in Sweden. ©Per Friske

Brazil has not joined the life-saving treaty that bans cluster munitions. It also produces, stockpiles and exports cluster bombs to other countries. On the opening day of the 2014 World Cup, Cluster Munition Coalition campaigners in Brazil are joined by campaigners in at least 32 countries (including Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, Germany, Ghana, Italy Japan, Macedonia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Palestine, Peru, Philippines, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Uganda, UK, USA Yemen and Zambia.) in urging the Brazilian government to stop this abhorrent practice and accede to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.

“We call for fair play, on the field of sport, and in the field of disarmament,” said Gabriel Silva, Coordinator of the Brazilian Campaign against Landmines and Cluster Munitions. “While the majority of the world has banned this weapon and disassociated itself from it, Brazil continues to put profits ahead of civilian lives.”

Cluster bombs open mid-air to release dozens or hundreds of sub-munitions that can cover an area of up to several football pitches, causing widespread harm on impact. In addition, due to their high failure rate, unexploded sub-munitions remain dangerous, killing and injuring civilians long after conflict has ended. One third of all recorded cluster bomb casualties are children and 60% of cluster bomb casualties are injured while undertaking normal activities. By joining the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, 113 countries have already committed to rid the world of this indiscriminate weapon and the number is growing.

Yet there was little political support for Brazil to join the ban at a recent public hearing on the issue.  Brazilian representative of the Minister of Defence in attendance extolled the commercial benefit of producing and exporting the weapon and a perceived military utility as a non-nuclear weapon deterrent.

24 of the 32 countries competing in the 2014 World Cup have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Brazil finds itself in a small group remaining outside of the global ban along with fellow competitors Algeria, Argentina, Greece, Iran, Russia, South Korea and the USA. Brazil plays its opening match against Croatia, a country that continues to be affected by contamination from cluster bombs that were dropped in the 1990s.

Laos is another country still suffering from the deadly legacy of cluster bombs. This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the USA’s nine year bombing campaign in Laos. A football player from Laos, 19-year-old Mini Phanthavong, lives in an area that is heavily contaminated with cluster munition remnants. For Mini and his football friends, kicking the ball off the football pitch could be lethal. “When we kick the ball into a bush or the forest lawn, we have to go out of the playing field to collect the ball,” says Mini, “with every step that I walk outside of the marked pathway, I am always concerned and scared."

Use of cluster munitions is not confined to the past. In Syria, use of cluster munitions by government forces has been widespread and is ongoing, leading to mounting civilian casualties.

Every World Cup tournament inspires young people worldwide to be the footballers of tomorrow. Yet for those living in cluster munition contaminated countries, this dream remains a difficult reality. For Mini and other aspiring footballers, Brazil can live up to the World Cup spirit of fair play and put the dreams and lives of people before unethical commercial profits.

Take action:

1) Send a letter to Brazil's Minister of Foreign Affairs (Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado)

2) Send a letter, email or phone the Embassy of Brazil in your country

3) Join CMC member Dan Church Aid by signing your name to their letter to Brazil