UN backs Vientiane declaration on Cluster Munitions
VIENTIANE, - The United Nations has hailed the outcome of this week’s high-level meeting in Laos of signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, describing it as an important step towards ridding the world of an abhorrent weapon.
The First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention – the largest international gathering ever hosted by the Government of Lao PDR – brought together delegates from 118 states and more than 560 civil society representatives.
Its significance was underlined in tragic circumstances on Wednesday when a cluster bomb explosion in the province of Bolikhamxay – some 200 kilometres east of Vientiane -- killed a 10-year old girl and seriously injured her sister. Such accidents are common in Lao PDR, which (per capita) is the most heavily bombed country in history.
The Vientiane meeting concluded on Friday with the adoption of the Vientiane Declaration and Action Plan. These contain important provisions for enhancing co-operation with international organizations and civil society in order to rapidly advance the full implementation of the Convention and a universal ban on cluster munitions. States committed to accelerate progress on clearance and stockpile destruction; expand the coverage of services for victims; enhance co-operation with international organisations and civil society, and provide timely transparent reporting of progress.
“This week the world has taken an important step towards peace, multilateral co-operation and humanitarian disarmament”, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro said. “Today we celebrate the results of an evolution in global thinking and the bold choice of many governments.”
In her address to the meeting on Tuesday, the UN Deputy Secretary-General described cluster weapons as indiscriminate and inhumane. ”The Cluster Munitions Convention is underpinned by an abhorrence of a specific weapon,” said Dr. Migiro, paying special tribute to the multilateral partnership that led to the swift entering into force of the Convention. Civil society, nation states, the United Nations system and the International Committee of the Red Cross, all worked together arriving at what she called a “landmark convention” that had given a great boost to international humanitarian law.
By the close of the historic meeting on Friday, 108 states had signed the Convention and 46 had ratified it. A large number of other states present announced that they were firmly on the path to signing and ratifying it or already advancing its implementation provisions.
All nations present at the meeting in Vientiane commended the Government of Lao PDR for its impressive Presidency and organization of the meeting and for the exceptional hospitality shown to all delegations. The next major event in the life of the Convention will be the Second Meeting of States Parties due to take place in Beirut, Lebanon, in September 2011 at which states will report back on their progress, and where the real test from ‘Vision to Action’ will be apparent.
The United Nations issued strong statements of support at the meeting in Vientiane and remains committed to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, its early universalization and full implementation.
Cluster munitions are large weapons which are deployed from the air or the ground and release hundreds of smaller submunitions or “bomblets,” These bomblets have a wide dispersal pattern that results in a wide area of impact. Since World War II, at least 15 countries have used cluster munitions in more than 24 countries. Some 85 countries have stockpiles of cluster munitions containing billions of explosive devices. The new treaty – which entered into force on August 1 2010 -- requires that these are now destroyed in all states party to the Convention.
Between 1964 and 1973, over 2 million tons of ordnance, including 270 million cluster sub-munitions (known in Laos as ‘bombies’) were dropped on the country. With an average failure rate of 30%, approximately 80 million of them remained in the ground – and still potentially lethal – decades later. Government surveys have recorded more than 50,000 civilian casualties caused by cluster bombs, landmines and other unexploded ordnance since 1964. The weapons continue to claim victims, often among children, on a near-daily basis.
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