Today marks the beginning of the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, held in Vientiane, Laos. The meeting’s purpose is to determine how to effectively implement the objectives laid out by the original Convention, which took place in Dublin in May 2008 and became binding to ratifying states in August this year. Those objectives are as follows:
The Convention on Cluster Munitions, CCM, prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of Cluster Munitions. Separate articles in the Convention concern assistance to victims, clearance of contaminated areas and destruction of stockpiles.
Thus far, 36 countries have been affected by cluster munitions (ex. Lebanon, Angola, Serbia). However, it is appropriate that Laos is hosting this meeting, as it is one of the most heavily bombed countries in history – a legacy of American bombing during the Second Indochina War. The lingering effects of cluster munitions have been particularly pernicious. Even today, almost four decades after the bombing of Laos ended, there are roughly 250 casualties annually from unexploded ordnance (UXO) leftover from the war. Many of these casualties are children.
Last year, I saw some of the effects of the war in Laos first-hand in Xieng Khouang province, where craters and injured people are both abundant. My interpreter and guide, Manophet, introduced me to a bomb clearance team outside of the town of Phonsavan. They explained how the process of UXO detection and removal is painstakingly slow, given how widespread an area a single cluster bomb unit can cover and how many tons of ordnance were released over Laos (click here to see what a cluster bomb can do to your neighborhood).
The day I visited, the team had located ten ‘bombies,’ and they were kind enough to let me remotely detonate one, an experience far removed from my usual job. It was exciting, but also a chilling reminder of how long such munitions can last, with the potential to indiscriminately maim or kill even decades after a war has officially concluded.
As an American, it also struck me how we are obligated to clean up the mess we left behind. After all, the war in Laos is over. Therefore, UXO is not a military problem or a political one. Rather, it is a public health problem – killing family members, causing disability, and disrupting lives. Regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, it should be uncontroversial to say that children should not be maimed or killed by bombs leftover from a war that ended decades before they were born. Removing the bombs in Laos is simply the right thing to do.
Brief video from the day I visited (34 seconds).
Lingering Effects of War in Laos Link
Organization: Mines Advisory Group Link
Organization: Legacies of War Link
Organization: Cluster Munition Coalition Link