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  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.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
It was The New Humanitarian’s investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that uncovered sexual abuse by aid workers during the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo and led the World Health Organization to launch an independent review and reform its practices.
This demonstrates the important impact that our journalism can have.
But this won’t be the last case of aid worker sex abuse. This also won’t be the last time the aid sector has to ask itself difficult questions about why justice for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation has been sorely lacking.
We’re already working on our next investigation, but reporting like this takes months, sometimes years, and can’t be done alone.
The support of our readers and donors helps keep our journalism free and accessible for all. Donations mean we can keep holding power in the aid sector accountable, and shine a light on similar abuses.