As coordinator, I recently returned from Laos where I represented our PSALM students and WVCBL at the 1st Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Vientiane, Lao PDR November 8th-12th, 2010. Lao PDR was a highly appropriate venue as it is the most heavily bombed country in the world. The scale of devastation caused by cluster bombs and landmines is immense and shocking.
- Sad reminder of the hidden dangers
While in Laos, the Cluster Munition Coalition arranged for delegates to visit to Xieng Khuang province. I cannot understate the impact of a field trip to Xieng Khouang province which is one of the most heavily bombed areas in the Lao PDR. While there we witnessed cluster munition clearance operations ongoing by UXO Lao and the destruction of cluster munitions. It was powerful and truly life changing to witness the extent of the contamination first hand.
As a teacher, what was particularly distressing was the close proximity of a school near this area. As I watched the children play, I could only wonder how often they came into contact with these remnants of war. I could easily imagine how the curiosity of a child would lead them to investigate these “bombies”. Many of the victims happen upon them while partaking of their daily activities. We were permitted to view the clearance team as they used metal detectors for surface clearance to detect weapons underground. When bombs are found, they were detonated either with a fuse or by an electrical charge. Seeing first-hand the painstaking work of deminers, looking at the pock-marked earth and feeling the shock of a blast even from a safe distance gave us a better sense of the reality of the cluster bomb problem that people face every day. While in Vientiane, we were reminded of the long-term devastation cluster munitions cause when, during the course of the meeting, a cluster submunition explosion in Lao PDR’s Bolikhamxay province killed a 10-year-old girl and injured her 15-year-old sister.
Throughout the week, meetings were held to clarify issues of victim assistance, clearance and risk education. COPE, the National Rehabilitation Center, hosted a wheelchair basketball game. It allowed us, as delegates, to view the centers’ facilities which are designed to work with the victims in their process of rehabilitation.
- Cluster munitions detonated in Laos
The Vientiane Action Plan, adopted at the end of the meeting, commits to “implement fully all of the obligations under the Convention”. In addition, it speeds up deadlines and sets budgets and targets to make it happen. At the closing ceremony of the Vientiane meeting, a delegation of survivors and a delegation of youth leaders from around the world each delivered strong declarations affirming their commitment to carry forward the campaign and hold governments to account.
An important aspect of our mission of educating others is to document the issue in affected areas. This allows PSALM students and WVCBL members to see the effects of landmines and cluster munitions on the people that have to deal with them day in and day out. It also shows PSALM students that they have a voice and their actions can have a positive impact on others… an invaluable lesson in hope and perseverance.
- Dr. Larry Schwab, WVCBL member, with UXO LAO Map
- WVCBL Coordinator, Nora Sheets, Cambodian Campaign to Ban Landmines, Tun Channareth and Dr. Larry Schwab, WVCBL in Laos