Published on: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Virgil Wiebe, UST Law professor and Director of Clinical Education, recently represented the community on an international scale by testifying before the Canadian Senate regarding their implementation of legislation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM).
Cluster munitions—otherwise known as cluster bombs—are explosive weapons designed to eject multiple smaller bombs, or submunitions. Historically, these bombs have been used to destroy power transmission lines, disperse chemical weapons, and distribute land mines.
However, such bombs are criticized for the extreme risk unexploded pieces present to civilians even after a conflict ends. Additionally, cluster munitions are expensive to find and remove post-conflict. Therefore, according to its website, the CCM “prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of Cluster Munitions.”
Canada was one of the first signatories of the CCM treaty back in 2008. Now, parliament is discussing the ratification process needed to implement the treaty by way of domestic law. Wiebe was invited to testify by Dr. Jeff King, a Canadian lawyer and academic who expressed concern over impending legislation. Dr. King wrote a letter—of which Professor Wiebe contributed his name and research— to Canada’s Foreign Minister and Prime Minister.
“When the treaty was being negotiated, it was clear that big powers (like the US, China, and Russia) would not join the treaty. Countries that were part of the process (like Canada) that nonetheless wanted to continue to engage in military operations with countries like the United States pushed hard for an article in the treaty that allowed “interoperability” with states that might still use cluster munitions,” Wiebe says. “While that article does exist in the treaty, many feel that Canada’s proposed implementing legislation goes too far and would actually allow Canadian use of cluster munitions.”
Wiebe has long been an advocated against the use of cluster munitions in armed conflict. His involvement in the issue stems from his law school experience as the alternate delegate at the United Nations for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). As a relief and development organization, MCC workers had firsthand experience with the effects of unexploded cluster munitions in Laos.
“When the effort to ban landmines was gaining steam in the 1990s, MCC joined the effort in the hopes that unexploded cluster munitions would be considered landmines, too. We lost that effort, but continued advocating in other forums for a ban on cluster munitions,” Wiebe says.
Wiebe has participated in multiple United Nations and other conferences on conventional weapons. This has included travel to Geneva, Vienna, Dublin, the Hague, Rome, New York, and Washington, D.C.