(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

UXO meeting focuses on survivors

Sixty percent of the 300 people injured or killed by unexploded ordinances annually in Laos were undertaking normal activities at the time of their accident
Natalie Bailey/IRIN

Delegates from more than 100 countries are discussing the Convention on Cluster Munitions at the First Meeting of States Parties on 9 November in Vientiane, Laos, the world’s most affected country.

UN agencies, civil society organizations and cluster bomb survivors will spend four days devising an action plan for states to realize their obligations under the convention, signed by 108 states, ratified by 43, and entered into force in August this year. The treaty bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs and, in Article 5, refers specifically to assisting the injured.

“Article [5] is very concrete; it says there has to be national plan, a focal point, a budget,” Hildegarde Vansintjan of Handicap International told IRIN. “We can make sure the survivors get what they need because they have to say what they need.”

Thomas Nash, coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), a global network of more than 350 civil society organizations, told IRIN that as the only legally binding requirement for a human rights-based approach to disarmament, the convention was unique. According to Nash, the contribution and role of the survivors in the negotiations was a vital element.

Cluster bombs disperse small bombs (cluster sub-munitions) over a wide area and many fail to detonate on impact and remain in the land years after conflict has ended. A 2006 report by Handicap International stated that as many as 98 percent of victims of cluster bombs in the past three decades have been civilians.

Laos government statistics estimate that more than 80 million unexploded cluster sub-munitions remained after the second Indo-China war (1964-1973) and today an average of 300 people are still injured or killed in UXO accidents annually, 60 percent while going about their normal activities, says CMC.

Thoummy Silamphan, 22, was digging for bamboo shoots in his village in northern Laos when his spade hit a “bombie”, the local term for cluster sub-munitions. Shrapnel pierced his whole body and his left hand had to be amputated. He told IRIN that article 5 on victim assistance “should help survivors in all the villages, not only for treatment and rehabilitation, but also to improve their daily lives”.

Thoummy is part of the Ban Advocate initiative, a group of men and women affected by cluster munitions from around the world, and was involved in all aspects of the Convention.

According to Nash, the hope is that the four-day meeting will see governments turning words into action. “The challenge now is implementing and holding the governments to account. That’s a massive challenge ahead of us.”


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