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Nov-10-2010 00:24printcomments

Meeting on Cluster Munitions Opens in Laos, the World's Most Affected Country

Between 1964 and 1973, the United States dropped more than 270 million cluster munitions over Laos. An estimated 80 million cluster munitions that did not explode on impact are scattered in rice fields, waterways and on roads...

Cluster bomb
Cluster bomb photo: Handicap International

(VIENTIANE, Laos) - Laos is more contaminated by cluster munitions than any other country in the world. It is therefore symbolic that Laos is hosting the historic First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, currently being held in Vientiane.

Handicap Int;. deminers with bombs in
Phonhai, Laos. Photo by T. Wagner
Handicap International

Handicap International will use this meeting as an opportunity to call on states to renew their commitment to meeting the treaty obligations, particularly in terms of survivor assistance and decontamination. The organization is also calling on all states that have not already signed the treaty to do so as soon as possible.

Between 1964 and 1973, the United States dropped more than 270 million cluster munitions over Laos. An estimated 80 million cluster munitions that did not explode on impact are scattered in rice fields, waterways and on roads, threatening the daily lives of civilians.

More than 50,000 people were killed or injured in accidents caused by explosive remnants of war between 1964 and 2008, almost half occurring during peacetime[1]. What makes the situation all the more unacceptable is the fact that children are the main victims of these weapons. Between 1979 and 2008, 60 percent of civilian victims were young boys. The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which entered into force on August 1, 2010, represents a major opportunity to bring about change in Laos, as well as in the other 35 countries and territories contaminated by these weapons.

Laos is hosting the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions and requires the destruction of stockpiles, clearance of cluster munition remnants from affected land and the provision of assistance to victims and affected communities.

To date, 108 countries have signed the treaty, including 46 states that have already ratified it. This meeting marks an essential step toward putting the treaty into practice. The States Parties are expected to underline their commitment to the treaty, to agree on measures to include in an action plan that will put the treaty’s requirements, -- particularly clearance and survivor assistance -- into practice, and to promote the treaty by calling on all non-signatory states to sign it.

“Our staff have helped thousands of cluster munitions victims in dozens of countries around the world,” said Wendy Batson, executive director of Handicap International’s U.S. office. “Handicap International urges non-signatory countries to join the international community in making this treaty a potent force in reducing the suffering of populations worldwide,” she added.

The meeting will also provide an opportunity for countries to outline the financial commitments they have allocated to implement the treaty. Handicap International intends to pay particularly close attention to ensuring these commitments are effectively met.

According to the 2010 Cluster Munition Monitor report, between 58,000 and 85,000 people around the world have fallen victim to cluster munitions. It is essential to ensure that adequate funding is allocated to survivor assistance and decontamination and to ensure that the victims of these weapons, and their families and communities, will actually benefit from the treaty.

Handicap International has been working to reduce the threat posed by explosive remnants of war through clearance and risk education activities in Laos since 1996. The organization works with families involved in metal collection. Most metal collectors are young boys who recover metal from fields to sell it and supplement their family’s income.

This metal is mostly sourced from remnants of war and, unfortunately, many are unexploded. Although they risk exploding when handled, they are sold for a modest sum. Handicap International offers alternatives to this trade and helps local populations develop other sources of income.

“The day will come when this heinous weapon will no longer threaten future generations,” Batson said, adding, “May that day come soon."

[1] Report of National Regulatory Authority of Lao PDR, 2010.

Handicap International works to improve the living conditions of people living in disabling situations in post-conflict or low-income countries around the world. Our programs reduce and address the consequences of disabling accidents and disease; clear landmines and prevent mine related accidents through education; respond fast and effectively to natural and civil disasters in order to limit serious and permanent injuries and assist survivors with social and economic reintegration; and advocate for the universal recognition of the rights of the disabled through national planning and advocacy. Handicap International is a co-founder of the Cluster Munition Coalition and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

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