Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his hope that a two-week international conference, starting Monday 19 May 2008, will secure a treaty to ban cluster bombs. In this podcast we hear from the Trocaire office how cluster bombs work, and how civilians inevitably are the main victims.

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This podcast made available from Vatican Radio

Pope adds voice to call for treaty banning Cluster Bombs

Pope Benedict XVI yesterday called on governments to adopt an international convention banning the use of cluster bombs, on the eve of a conference on the issue in Dublin today.

Speaking at the Angelus during a visit to the Italian town of Genoa, the Pope said he hoped that thanks to the responsibility of all participants “we will get a strong and credible international instrument” to ban the weapons, the pope said.

The pope prayed for the victims of cluster munitions and for their families, pointing out that some of those directly affected by the weapons would attend the Dublin conference.

I hope that it may be possible to arrive at a strong and credible international instrument. It is necessary, indeed, to remedy the errors of the past and prevent their being repeated in the future. With my prayers I accompany the victims of cluster munitions and their families, as well as those who will participate in the conference, and I give my best wishes for its success
Pope Benedict XVI

Call from Irish Church

Yesterday, the Bishops Commission for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA) and Trocaire, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, called on the Government to continue to display, at this 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.

Cluster munitions often called Cluster Bombs’ – 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.

In preparation for this conference a special multi-faith service was opened yesterday afternoon by Bishop Raymond Field in Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin.

ICJSA and Trocaire also called 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.

They further called on the Government to prioritise the introduction of domestic legislation for the total elimination of cluster munitions and 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.

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.

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.

In the forty years since cluster munitions were first used they have consistently caused loss of life and injury to civilians. 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 35per cent of the casualties being children.

The statement emphasises that 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.

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, the statement concludes.