They hang from trees, they lay where children can pick them up and they kill and maim indiscriminately years after a conflict has ended. We're talking about those awful cluster bombs. Recently in Dublin, more than a hundred nations sat down to thrash out a ban on this most insidious of weapons. Watching proceedings closely were 300 cluster bomb survivors and anti-bomb activists from around the globe, including an Australian called John Rodsted, who, you may recall, we last met 12 months ago in Lebanon. To put it mildly, Rodsted is a formidable campaigner. David Brill caught up with him on the road again this time in Ireland, where he clearly had the Australian Government squarely in his sights.
REPORTER: David Brill
This is the 'Ban Bus' - the latest move in a well-coordinated multinational campaign to ban cluster bombs. John Rodsted knows plenty about campaigning. He was part of the group that secured an historic treaty in 1997 banning land mines, and a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.
REPORTER: Since I've seen you last, John, what's been happening?
JOHN RODSTED, ANTI – BOMB ACTIVIST: What's been happening? We've come a long way. You think, when we went to Lebanon at the beginning of 2007 together and then we went to Oslo for the very beginning of this whole process.
Together with colleague Kevin Bryant and his partner Mette, they are part of the Cluster Munitions Coalition.
JOHN RODSTED: And now, on Monday, the end game starts, where we end with the world coming here to Dublin to attempt to pull this treaty together. So it's going to be two weeks of really tough fighting it out, making a strong treaty, so this is what it has all culminated to.
Today John and his crew are taking the campaign to a local high school in Derry.
JOHN RODSTED: Basically we take any platform, whether it's a school, last night we were in a pub, we were in parliament in Belfast the other day. It's all about spreading the word.
Good morning. My name is John Rodsted, got a couple of colleagues, particularly my colleague here, Kevin Bryant. We've both spent a lot of our adult life working at places that are either at war or where wars are finished. One of the saddest things is not the difference in the wars that I see, it’s the similarities.
For 20 years, from Afghanistan to Kosovo to Cambodia, Rodsted has seen the human damage caused by cluster bombs.
JOHN RODSTED: Depending on which one is being used they will split open and hundreds of these little devices are going to start raining down over the target. An average aircraft bomb will hold about 600 of these little bomblets and they will spread out in the air and they will come down and one bomb will cover the area the size of two football fields and they'll start hitting the ground and they will detonate.
Here's some of his own video footage in the field.
JOHN RODSTED: Here we are at Bagram with an estimated 60,000 tonnes of munitions that need cleaning up, quite a task. I won't fool around in this place for terribly long, because I admit to feeling quite uncomfortable being here.
LEBANON 2006: For the last two weeks I've been travelling southern Lebanon, documenting the devastation that's been caused by the Israeli use of cluster bombs here.
Huge numbers of these things fail to explode, these things will lay around the ground, they will be stuck in trees they will be on the ground, if they hit soft ground, they will be under the ground and they will lay there in wait until somebody, innocently, years later, come in contact with these things.
John strikes a chord with the kids and there's no shortage of questions.
STUDENT: Will there ever be a time when you can say there is no cluster land mines and it's safe?
JOHN RODSTED: Will there ever be a time when there are no cluster bombs or land mines? We certainly hope so - that's what we're working on, we want this stuff to disappear.
KEVIN BRYANT: Can I have a show of hands of who wants a ban? Who wants a ban on cluster bomb? I think that's everybody, well done. Thanks, guys.
The next morning the team pack the van and prepare for another day on the road.
REPORTER: What have you got, John?
JOHN RODSTED: Oh, I just got a couple of things - my teaching aids - walking around with a fist full of luckily fake cluster bombs. There the ones we used in the school, we used those today as well.
REPORTER: Which are the ones that were used in Lebanon?
JOHN RODSTED: These ones.
REPORTER: There the ones that get caught in the trees, are they?
JOHN RODSTED: And these are the ones that are supposed to have the self-destruct mechanism but failed by their thousands, so that's certainly, that's the old technology, Vietnam War-era - So-called new technology, Lebanon-war era - both failed - that's our argument.
They're off to spread their message at the Famine March, a 10km walk for all those who died during the great Irish Famine of the 1800s.
JOHN RODSTED: The whole point of why we're against cluster bombs is people can't use the land and they've got a dangerous environment. It is the same. If you have these things you create famines. You create lack of development. You hold people in a poverty trap permanently. It doesn't go away.
Before the march the participants gather here in County Mayo.
JOHN RODSTED: I'm sick and tired of the arrogance of governments and the arrogance of militaries who couldn't care less - they do not care about the end result. They will smash the hell out of a place and move on and say 'bad luck, you're stuck with a legacy, not our problem'.
On the walk he is relentless in spreading his message, saying civil society is involved because organisations like the UN are ineffective.
JOHN RODSTED: They have a talk feast which is not going to achieve anything because of consensus and then they just say ‘Oh well, can’t do anything, that the status quo.’
Back on the Ban Bus and off to Dublin, but Rodsted's day is not over yet. His blog is read around the world.
REPORTER: And you do get feedback?
JOHN RODSTED: We get feedback. We get positive feedbacks from the governments and from civil society and I'm sure, as some of the stuff I wrote is going to start making some people nervous and that's just bad luck for them, if they're going some silly back-room games, tough luck, if we're writing about it.
The treaty must not be half-cocked. It's like being half dead or a little bit pregnant. You're either dead, pregnant or have a strong treaty - nothing more, nothing less.
It's a hero's welcome as the bus arrives in Dublin, and Rodsted is ready with a final pep talk before tomorrow's conference.
JOHN RODSTED: The simple thing for everybody from civil society - which is all of you - is that we are here to pressure them like crazy. They do not get any slack movement - they have to work for us and they have to do what we demand of them. So at the end of the day we're going to have two hard weeks, we're going to make it happen, we're going to have a good ban. Let's get to work.
DAY 1, DUBLIN DIPLOMATIC CONFERENCE ON CLUSTER MUNITIONS:
REPORTER: Good morning, John.
JOHN RODSTED: Good morning, David.
REPORTER: You look very smart this morning.
JOHN RODSTED: I feel very formal. I think we've got a big two weeks ahead of us.
These campaigners have travelled from around the globe.
JOHN RODSTED: Where are you from?
GIRL: I was born in Laos and from the US.
WOMAN 1: I am from Germany.
WOMAN 2: From France.
WOMAN 3: United States.
WOMAN 4: United Kingdom.
MAN: I am from Uganda.
As well as the activists, almost 130 nations are here to draw up a treaty, but some very big players are noticeably absent, including China, Russia, Israel, India and the US. Jody Williams shared the Nobel Peace Prize for her work securing the landmine ban. She's critical of that the US, isn't here this time around for a cluster bomb treaty.
JODY WILLIAMS, CLUSTER MUNITIONS COALITION: With the landmine treaty, the US was at least involved. They were there right up until the last day so that you could confront them directly. Here they've really been pushing from behind and they don't really care if they totally trash this treaty. They'd be happy if they did.
REPORTER: Why? From the layman's point of view?
JODY WILLIAMS: They didn't like it that civil society was able to have a serious voice in helping determine what weapons are legal and what weapons are not. They don't want to see that happen again.
If what Jody says is true then these anti-cluster campaigners have their work cut out for them. Ireland's Foreign Minister is chairing the conference. He comes out to accept a global petition signed by over 700,000 people. He's greeted by a victim of cluster munitions in Afghanistan.
VICTIM, (Translation): I am a victim of cluster bomb, let’s come together and make this a strong treaty.
The conference gets down to business. Aside from this opening session, the media will be excluded. Rodsted already suspects Australia will be playing a spoiler role.
JOHN RODSTED: I look forward to bailing them up and seeing where they've moved. I've seen things they've written and they seem to be weakening their position or they're only talking about part of the issues they've got, so I really want to find out what they're about.
As the delegates set out to work, the Australian delegation aren't happy to be filmed.
CAROLINE MILLAR, AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UN IN GENEVA: Are you filming us?
CAROLINE MILLAR: I hope you're not filming us with sound because we're actually having a discussion here.
REPORTER: You're from Australia, are you?
CAROLINE MILLAR: Yeah.
As the meeting continues behind closed doors, talks focus on the wording of the treaty. Even defining what a cluster bomb is and how many bomblets it contains is being debated. These technicalities are lost on the survivors who are gathered outside sharing their stories.
MAN: My son was killed on his fifth birthday exactly from a cluster bomb dropped by Israel in south Lebanon.
Downstairs the non-government campaigners are busily working on their lobbying strategies.
MAN: For a total ban, nothing less. I think that is what we need to do, yeah.
PAUL HANNON, MINES ACTION CAMPAIGN: We have some very positive countries and we also have the key problematic countries. For those of you who are from positive countries, whatever issue they are positive on, please get them to be vocal in the informal sessions.
As the conference breaks for tea, John is being recorded for his multi-media blog. He's convinced the Australians want to water down some key points.
JOHN RODSTED: Australia is giving very mixed messages about what they actually want from this treaty process. They talk about having a really good strong treaty process but then they want exceptions for the way that they can conduct coalition conflicts with regard to the USA and also they demand to have stockpiles kept for training purposes. The training purposes stock pile is ridiculous as there is not a clearance operation in the world that ever trains with live cluster bombs.
I was hoping to ask the Australians for their response to John's claims but by the end of the next day my repeated request for an interview still hadn't been approved.
DAY 4, 6.30AM:
REPORTER: Morning, John.
JOHN RODSTED: Morning, David.
REPORTER: So what's happening today then?
JOHN RODSTED: Well we're going to have a public protest. Everyone's going to turn up and lay down, sort of simulating what you get after a strike, yeah, to just get the public knowledge about what's going on with cluster bombs happening.
The activists are angry that the latest proposal being discussed at the conference would allow countries like the USA - who won't sign the treaty - to use cluster bombs when participating in a joint military operation with a country who has signed. They call that interoperability.
JOHN RODSTED: We're off to the US embassy, we’ve got the police loitering over there and we don't want to give the game away too early.
JODY WILLIAMS; They're proposing language which says they can participate directly in planning and execution of joint operations with the US using cluster bombs. Hello! That is an obvious violation of the intent of this treaty. If you don't want to sign the treaty, UK, if you don't want to sign the treaty, Canada, if you don't want to sign the treaty, Australia, don't sign it, but don't ruin it for the rest of the world on behalf of the United States. Quit appeasing the United States of America.
Back on the bus, and Rodsted is fired up.
JOHN RODSTED: What are we fighting for? Don't ask me I don't give a damn Next up it's Vietnam. We're not going to Vietnam, though. We're going to the US Embassy because they have been bombing the hell out of the world since Vietnam so we're kind of sick of it. 40-odd years later and people are still suffering from the legacy of a long-gone war.
CROWD: U-S-A, shame on you!
ACTIVIST: We are the Iraqi bomb cluster survivors. We ask the USA, why you use the cluster against the civilians?
The campaigners are unsuccessful in meeting with the US Ambassador, so it's another lie-in and then it's back to the conference.
JOHN RODSTED: Two different sides you put on?
REPORTER: What are they?
JOHN RODSTED: You push one way and then you play the game other way at times, so it's a little bit of everything. You got to do a bit of campaigning, you got to do a bit of business. It's all part of it.
It's breakfast time for these victims of cluster munitions. They're about to receive some significant news. For the first time, governments have financially committed themselves to assisting victims of cluster bombs. The Australian delegation are credited for playing a key role.
RAE McGRATH, HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL NETWORK AND CMC: You are getting countries recognised within this treaty, you have to recognise people, you have got to recognise the humanitarian issues within the heart of the treaty.
The second week kicks off with more closed-door talks and there's a noticeable air of tension as the media is kept away. Locked out, I follow the NGO briefings and am surprised to see two senior figures defying their governments' position and addressing the crowd.
LORD DUBBS, UK PARLIAMENTARIAN: I'm happy to be here and am looking forward to a positive outcome by Friday evening. I know the British Government is one of the ones who are a bit iffy on some of the issues. I've been told to be here to keep an eye on them to see what they're doing.
Patrick Leahy is a powerful US senator. For years he's campaigned against land mines and cluster bombs.
REPORTER: Why are the Americans being difficult about cluster bombs?
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY, US DEMOCRATIC SENATOR: America being difficult? There's a first time for everything. My own government is not participating, and I regret that, but I came here because I wanted people to know that there are members of our Congress House and in the Senate who support this effort.
While the media lock-out continues, the conference is broadcast outside on these TVs.
JOHN RODSTED: Australia is sticking themselves up to be one of the real bad guys. We saw a little movement in the British position and Australia came back as being Mr Tough Guy. They're actually getting left behind.
REPORTER: I spoke to the info officer at Australian Foreign Affairs department and he said they're still waiting on permission for me to interview the Australian ambassador.
JOHN RODSTED: I think that's ridiculous. I think they're ducking for cover because they're embarrassed at their position. I mean, you are either proud of..your here to represent your country and you have got to be proud of exactly what your saying or your embarrassed about it.
With four days left of the conference, the treaty still hangs in the balance and the pressure is building. The Cluster Munitions Coalition are updating their blog.
JOHN RODSTED: We've stepped a long way forward from the really offending text that was on the table a few days ago, but we are definitely running out of time. Basically we've this afternoon and tomorrow to make this thing really come together, so yeah, clock's ticking, gloves are off and you can see the intensity from the diplomats as well as the NGOs. We all realise we've got a lot to do in a short period of time.
With three days to go, the morning brings some remarkable news.
JOHN RODSTED: This is the front page of the 'Guardian' from London. It says that the Government is preparing to scrap Britain's entire arsenal of cluster bombs in the face of the growing clamber against weapons that have killed and maimed hundreds of innocent civilians.
REPORTER: What's that mean to you?
JOHN RODSTED: That's absolutely phenomenal - that's a complete change on the UK position. The UK have been the most dogmatic country holding on to issues of still being able to use them under certain conditions, or stockpile them. That's a complete 180 degrees which is fantastic.
Rodsted knows a critical moment has arrived, one which will impact all the key nations.
JOHN RODSTED: So today there is going to be a text come out which will actually be the first full draft of the treaty, which is great. But the bottom line is that the UK are crumbling and if the UK is crumbling then it's going to leave Canada and Australia pretty well standing on their own with America. And apparently what the word is from the UK is they're demanding all US stockpiles out of the UK with in six or eight years - I'm not sure which one it was - which is just such a fabulous movement from such a belligerent country. So if that happens, Australia is going to start looking really stupid standing on their own, trying to still keep this concept of interoperability in use of clusters, and the existence of clusters alive.
This morning, the first full version of the treaty will be announced. The committee thrashes out the wording of the text, again behind those closed doors. The screens outside remain the eyes and ears for most of the 300 campaigners.
JOHN RODSTED: This is the key one - this is the interoperability one. I'll give you a wrap in one second as soon as he gets through it.
But again my filming causes a problem. Late in the night the governments agree on a treaty. It will be formally adopted on the last day of the conference in less than 48 hours. But the campaigners have not got their way on two key points. Countries that sign the treaty are able to cooperate militarily with those who do not and cluster bombs have not been banned altogether. Now each bomb will only have a maximum of 10 bomblets, not the 600 they usually carry.
CAROLINE MILLAR: We are very happy with it - it's a strong humanitarian outcome, it's got very good provisions to assist victims of cluster munitions and it bans an entire class of weapons, so that is a great outcome. In addition, of course, it preserves for Australia and others the ability to operate in coalitions with the US and in UN peace enforcement operations which is very obviously very important to us.
Despite the friction between the Australian delegation and the campaigners for the past two weeks, now that the treaty has been agreed on, all seems forgiven.
WOMAN: Did you find civil society a damn nuisance or a help on the whole?
MAN: I think civil society has a great deal to be proud of.
CAROLINE MILLAR: I think you guys should be very proud of yourselves. I mean you really drove a lot of this process and we've got a very strong humanitarian outcome.
JOHN RODSTED: We're 90% happy with it - the problem has always been this clause of interoperability, disappointingly the wording of that was written by the Australians, so they have a bit of a contribution in that. But I think it's so heavily stigmatised we're going to have a treaty that's going to hold up. So, yeah, all in all tired, yes, do feel a bit flat at the end of these things, but good. It's a good result and it's time to blow off this whole diplomatic world and get back to the real world, 'cause this ain't it.
Inside the treaty is agreed on with a commitment to ratify it at the end of the year in Norway.
Original Music composed by
Additional footage courtesy of
International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC)