Brief on Bill C-6: An Act to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions

Tasneem Jamal

Submitted by: Kenneth Epps, Senior Program Officer, Project Ploughshares

November 13, 2013

Submitted to: House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Development

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Since 1987 Project Ploughshares has published an annual report on armed conflicts throughout the world. By tracking wars over a twenty-five year period we have noted trends in recent armed conflicts that are relevant to the Committee’s deliberations on Bill C-6. Most strikingly, today almost all wars in the world are intrastate not inter-state conflicts. They involve governments fighting internal opponents, as we currently see in Syria. While there are international dimensions to many armed conflicts – such as ISAF forces fighting in Afghanistan – currently there are no instances of states fighting other states.

We also see that the number of armed conflicts has generally declined over the past 15years, from a high of 44 conflicts in 1994 to a low of 24 conflicts in 2010.[1] This, of course, is a welcome trend that indicates the world community has increased its ability to end conflicts and prevent them from recurring. Together these two trends — the changed nature of war and the decline in the number of wars — provide an opportunity to reflect on, and alter, doctrines and tools of war that are based on traditional views of armed conflict.

Despite the striking decrease in the number of wars, what has not changed is the disproportionate impact of intrastate armed conflict on civilians. Across the globe, every year tens of thousands — even hundreds of thousands — of civilian men, women and children are killed, injured and displaced as a result of armed conflict and, of particular importance when considering cluster munitions, in the aftermath of conflict. The devastating impact of cluster munitions on civilians during conflicts, and sometimes for decades after conflicts nominally end, is the primary motivation for adopting and comprehensively implementing humanitarian disarmament treaties such as the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM).

It is understandable that military leaders may argue for certain weapon systems and arrangements they believe are necessary to train or protect their troops or fulfill other military objectives. As the Committee has heard in earlier testimony, the Department of National Defence supports Bill C-6 in its current form in part because it wants to maintain the status quo on training and interoperability with certain allies. But it is the duty of political leaders to take a wider view. You also need to consider the full range of international humanitarian obligations to which Canada has agreed.  In this instance, the obligation to prevent the use of cluster munitions to protect civilians must be paramount.

The committee does not face an abstract issue. Cluster munitions deployed in the past continue to kill and maim innocent people and cluster munitions deployed in the future will extend the killing and maiming. Because of their high humanitarian cost, it is the obligation of all states party to the CCM to discourage the use of cluster munitions under any and all circumstances. Canada must do more than ban the use and destroy the stockpiles of Canadian-held cluster munitions. It must work to eradicate the existence and use of cluster munitions everywhere.

We invite the members of the Committee to take this wider view. We are concerned that Section 11 of Bill C-6 contains loopholes and invites uncertainty that will undermine the spirit and purpose of Canada’s obligation to implement the CCM. We are concerned that in Section 11 wide provision for Canadian military interoperability with allies will weaken commitment to the treaty not just by Canada but also by other states parties.

Recommendations to the Committee:

We call on the Committee to consider the changed nature of modern warfare and to recognize its disproportionate impact on civilians, especially from the use of cluster munitions. We call for political leadership and innovative thinking that would amend Section 11 of Bill C-6 to allow Canada’s military to maintain interoperability with allies while ensuring that Canada fully implements the CCM. Through an amended Bill C-6 Canada can demonstrate leadership that achieves results. By reinforcing the full ban on cluster munitions, a revised Bill C-6 will advance civilian security and save human lives and limbs across the globe.

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