12 November 2010

Cluster bombs: 66-point plan turns legal obligations into concrete actions

 Cluster bomb and landmine survivors read a declaration at the closing ceremony of the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Vientiane, Lao PDR. Photo credit: Mary Wareham/HRWHistoric Laos meeting sets a new standard to judge all states(Vientiane, 12 November 2010) – Governments agreed today on a 66-point action plan to turn legal obligations in the cluster bomb treaty into concrete actions. The Vientiane Declaration and Action Plan issued at the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions set unprecedented new standards by which all governments will be judged, the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) said today at the conclusion of the meeting, which was held in Lao PDR, a country heavily contaminated by cluster bombs.The Vientiane Declaration says the Convention “sets a new standard by which states will be judged. We believe the sea change in the opinion of governments around the world towards this weapon will continue.” Governments agreed to hold their second meeting in Lebanon in September 2011, another nation seriously contaminated by cluster bombs.“This action plan marks a dramatic change in the way cluster bombs are perceived and dealt with by all governments,” said Thomas Nash, CMC Coordinator. “First, the cluster bomb treaty set the strongest legal obligations to assist victims ever and now we have a clear action plan which obliges governments to turn legal language into action with rapid deadlines and clear budgets. This is exactly what people living in contaminated areas have been waiting for.”The Vientiane Action Plan clearly recognises that not enough has been done to prevent accidents, clear land and help victims. The 66-point plan 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:

Stockpile destruction: The treaty obliges States Parties* to destroy stockpiles within eight years. Now, they have one year to set a timeline and a budget to begin the destruction.Clearance and risk education: The treaty obliges States Parties to clear contaminated areas within 10 years. Now, they have one year to identify all contaminated areas, develop a plan and begin clearance. Risk education is also prioritised.Victim assistance: The treaty obliges States Parties to provide an unprecedented level of assistance to cluster munition victims. Now, contaminated states have agreed to designate a focal point for victim assistance within six months.International assistance: The treaty obliges states in a position to do so to provide assistance to affected countries to clear contaminated areas and assist victims. Affected countries have now agreed to do more on clearance and victim assistance in 2011 and donor countries have also agreed to respond to requests from affected states already in 2011.Reporting: States have committed to collect all necessary data on victims and casualties.Several states made positive announcements at the Vientiane meeting, including Austria, which joined seven other countries that have already completed destroying their stockpiled cluster munitions. In addition to funding already committed for clearance and victim assistance work, Australia, Belgium, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Switzerland announced new contributions totaling over USD$6.7 million for Lao PDR next year.
“In affected countries like Laos and Lebanon, cluster bomb incidents that maim and kill are all too common,” said Bounlanh Phayboun, Chief Executive Officer, COPE, a Vientiane-based CMC member that provides prosthetics, orthotics and rehabilitation to cluster munition survivors and other persons with disabilities. “The fact that governments have now agreed to speed up treaty deadlines and really help with clearance and mine-risk education means we can reduce the risk of tragic casualties, as long as states commit enough resources and are in it for the long haul.”Delegates gathered in Vientiane 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 on 10 November.The CMC also commended the government of Lao PDR for its leadership in hosting the successful meeting and for showing delegates the hard reality of the cluster munition problem. Participants at the conference said that the visit to Xieng Khuang province – where the Plain of Jars is located and one of the most heavily cluster-bombed areas during US-led bombing raids from 1964-1973 during the Vietnam war – really brought home to them the need to prioritise land clearance and risk education.A total of 121 governments attended the four-day meeting, including some 34 non-signatories (see below for attendance list), a very positive sign for future engagement on the treaty. Many countries sent high-level delegations and UN Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro attended. To date, the treaty has 108 signatories and 46 States Parties.“As survivors, we face some very real challenges and the 66-point action plan shows that there is sincere commitment to deal with the task ahead in affected countries around the world,” said Branislav Kapetanovic, a CMC spokesman from Serbia who lost all four limbs in a cluster bomb blast when working as a deminer.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.Campaigners will continue to urge all countries to get on board the treaty. Through the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, the CMC will track and publish states’ progress on meeting their treaty obligations.* States PartiesThe Convention enters into force for a country and it becomes a state party six months after it ratifies or accedes. From this point forward, all the treaty’s obligations become legally binding for that country.
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