ICJSA and Trócaire call for cluster munitions’ ban ahead of international conference to be held in Dublin

18 May 2008

18 May 2008

ICJSA and Trócaire call for cluster munitions’ ban ahead of international conference to be held in Dublin

  • Bishop Raymond Field to open multi-faith service at 4.00pm today, Sunday 18 May 2008, in Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin.
  • Bishops’ Commission for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA) and Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, today [18 May 2008] call on the Government to continue to display, at the forthcoming conference, the commitment it has shown thus far to achieving a comprehensive and immediate ban on the production, stockpiling, transfer and use of all cluster munitions.
  • ICJSA and Trócaire call on the Government to provide moral leadership in favour of a strong treaty, which will ensure that all weapons that have the effects of Cluster Munitions are classified as such and banned, and prevent the future development of similar weapons that threaten the safety and well-being of civilian populations.
  • ICJSA and Trócaire call on the Government to prioritise the introduction of domestic legislation for the total elimination of cluster munitions. In addition, to ensure that all aspects of Irish foreign and defence policy reflect this commitment. This is particularly significant in the area of foreign investment.

On Monday next, 19 May 2008, Ireland will both host and chair an international meeting of over one hundred nations as part of an attempt to negotiate a treaty leading to the total elimination of Cluster Munitions. The Bishops’ Commission for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA) and Trócaire, the overseas development agency for Ireland’s Catholic Church, in a joint briefing paper call today for a total ban on cluster munitions. Please see joint briefing paper below:

Ireland was one of a core group of seven countries, including the Holy See, which played a leading role in bringing the negotiations to this crucial stage. Furthermore, the Irish government has included a specific commitment to the introduction of domestic legislation for the banning of Cluster Munitions in its programme for government. There is a concern, however, that certain weapon-producing nations will be seeking to limit some of the treaty’s provisions, and such attempts must be firmly resisted by the Irish delegation. The following statement, issued jointly by the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA) and Trócaire, aims to highlight key moral and humanitarian issues in relation to the use of Cluster Munitions that should inform the position of the Irish delegation at the forthcoming conference.

The Indiscriminate Violence of Cluster Munitions
In the forty years since cluster munitions were first used they have consistently caused loss of life and injury to civilians. Cluster munitions are large weapons containing multiple small sub-munitions which, when released, spread over an area the size of a football field. The aim of these weapons is to deny territory to the enemy, inflict casualties on its forces and destroy vehicles and military installations. When such weapons are deployed in populated areas however, civilian casualties are virtually guaranteed.

While Catholic teaching recognises the right of both individuals and nations to self-defence, the use of disproportionate and indiscriminate violence is clearly prohibited: “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man (sic) himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.” The key aspects of Catholic social teaching in this area, namely proportionality and the obligation to protect civilians, are also reflected in the provisions of International Humanitarian Law, particularly Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention.

Catholic teaching clearly states that “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.” Cluster Munitions however leave a devastating legacy in the areas where they are deployed, with far-reaching humanitarian consequences. The impact on post-conflict reconstruction is considerable, with large areas remaining “no-go” for years to come and agricultural land off limits, hindering people in the process of rebuilding their lives after war. Further effects of Cluster Munitions strikes include the death of livestock and forced displacement of civilian populations from their land. The resulting loss of food production for the affected communities has severe effects on their socio-economic status and their ability to meet their basic needs. A further danger associated with the use of these weapons, causing further civilian casualties, is the unexploded ordnance they leave behind as a result of the high dud rates of the individual sub-munitions.

Two months after Cluster Munitions strikes in Lebanon in August 2006 three to four fatalities were reported daily as a result of unexploded sub-munitions, with some 35% of the casualties being children.

The Challenge to Ireland
Ireland has established for itself a reputation as a nation committed to working for peace and the protection of vulnerable groups whose well-being and survival are threatened by the use of inhumane weapons. In 1967 Ireland had the honour of being the first nation to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Thirty years later, Ireland’s commendable stance during the negotiations for the 1997 Ottawa Treaty proved decisive in achieving a complete ban on landmines. A decade on, Ireland is once again at the forefront in recognising the equally devastating effects of Cluster Munitions, and calling for their elimination. Ireland’s commitment to this issue stems from the experience of Irish military personnel, who experienced first hand the devastating effects of Cluster Munitions through their peace-keeping work in Lebanon, where they were involved in the clearance of areas affected by these weapons.

At the forthcoming conference the Irish delegation must ensure that the interests of those nations that employ and produce Cluster Munitions are not allowed to eclipse the moral obligation to protect innocent civilians from harm. This view is supported in a recent statement from the Holy See which declared that, “both military and financial excuses to defend the use of cluster bombs are unacceptable.” According to the social teaching of the Church: “Disarmament must include the banning of weapons that inflict excessively traumatic injury or that strike indiscriminately.” Both these criteria clearly apply to Cluster Munitions. If Ireland is to maintain its reputation as a global leader in working for peace, it must ensure that it remains committed to the goal of achieving a total elimination of such weapons.

“That minimum protection of the dignity of every person, guaranteed by international humanitarian law, is all too often violated in the name of military or political demands which should never prevail over the value of the human person. Today we are aware of the need to find a new consensus on humanitarian principles and to reinforce their foundation to prevent the recurrence of atrocities and abuse.” (Pope John Paul II, 1999)

Notes for Editors

  • In advance of the international meeting which will be held in Dublin on Monday 19 May 2008, whose purpose is to attempt to negotiate a treaty leading to the total elimination of Cluster Munitions, a multi-faith service will take place at 4.00pm on Sunday 18 May in Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin.
  • Those participating in this multi-faith service include: Bishop Raymond Field, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Dublin who will welcome and say the opening prayer; the Venerable David Pierpoint, Church of Ireland Archdeacon of Dublin; Sheikh Muhammad Ibrahim, Auxiliary Imam of the Islamic Cultural Centre; Reverend Kenneth Thompson of the Methodist Church in Ireland; Ms Rachel M Bewley-Bateman of the Quaker Church in Ireland; Dharmachari Lalitavira of the Western Buddhist Order and His Excellency Dr Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia.


Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Kathy Tynan, Communications Officer (086 817 5674)
Catherine Ginty, Trócaire Communications Coordinator (086 629 3994)