In a strongly worded opinion piece today in Australia’s National Times, Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty urged the Australian Senate to take the responsible course in its implementation of the international ban on cluster munitions and push back against proposed legislation that would blunt the impact of the ban.  The Senate is scheduled to debate the bill in the coming days.

A US Air Force bomber drops cluster munitions during a training exercise.
A US Air Force bomber drops cluster munitions during a training exercise.

The Australian Senate has a chance to avoid an embarrassing double standard in its approach to international law.  But it needs to decide: does it want to ban cluster munitions or not?  Is it willing to stand by its signed commitment to eliminate these indiscriminate weapons immediately rather than do the bidding of the United States, which wants to put off a ban until at least 2018?

If the Senate passes the Cluster Munition Prohibition Bill without amendment, Australia will be in the unfortunate position of having arguably the world’s weakest national law to carry out the international ban on cluster munitions. The Senate, which is scheduled to debate the bill in coming days or as early as today, should instead seize the opportunity to strengthen the proposed legislation, increasing protection for civilians in armed conflict and remaining true to the international law Australia claims to support . . . .”

Lecturer on Law Bonnie Docherty, also a senior researcher in the arms division of Human Rights Watch, examines a cluster munition in Lebanon
 Bonnie Docherty, who is also a Senior Researcher in the Arms Division of HRW, examines a cluster munition in Lebanon.

The International Human Rights Clinic has worked with Human Rights Watch (HRW) for several years to push for an international ban on cluster munitions; when the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which codifies the ban, took effect last August, the team shifted its focus to urging states to implement it effectively.

In January, Maria van Wagenberg, JD ’11, and Mona Williams, JD ’11, helped Bonnie write a critique of the Australian government’s proposed implementation legislation, which allows for broad exceptions to the Convention’s ban in the event of joint military operations with countries not party to the Convention, such as the United States.  The paper was jointly submitted—by the Clinic and HRW—to the Australian Senate committee reviewing the bill.  In March, Bonnie testified before the committee by telephone, arguing against the country’s proposed legislation.

The committee ultimately forwarded the bill to the Senate without changes.

Learn more about our work on cluster munitions.