11 July 2012

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits COPE in Lao PDR

Hillary Clinton's message in the COPE visitor centre comments book(London, 11 July 2012) Hillary Clinton was in Vientiane, Lao PDR today – the first US Secretary of State to visit in 57 years. Her trip marks nearly four decades since the end of the so-called ‘Secret War’ in which the US dropped more than two million tons (2 billion kg) of bombs on Lao PDR including more than 270 million submunitions. While in Lao PDR Clinton toured the visitor centre of CMC member COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise).COPE works in partnership with the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) and smaller centres in rural areas of the country giving much needed support to amputees and survivors of cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance. They specialise in providing orthotic/prosthetic devices and rehabilitation services, including physiotherapy and occupational therapy.At COPE this morning, Clinton met cluster bomb survivor Phongsavath Souliyalat, who told her that he had lost his eyesight and both hands on his 16th birthday when one of the unexploded cluster bombs left over from the war exploded."I would like to see all governments ban cluster bombs and (try) to clear the bombs together and to help the survivors," Souliyalat said. "I am lucky because I got help ... but so many survivors are without help. Their life is very very hard.""We have to do more," Clinton replied. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to come here today, so that we can tell more people about the work that we should be doing together."Clinton added a message to the COPE Visitor Centre comments book, writing "Thank you for all you do to help so many and I pledge the United States will support COPE and the Lao people and government overcome the legacies of the past".Lao PDR is the world’s most heavily cluster munition contaminated country. According to the Cluster Munition Monitor unexploded submunitions caused 7,571 casualties between 1964 and 2009, and at least 2,500 survivors of this indiscriminate weapon live in Lao PDR today. Every year, more people in Lao PDR fall victim to this deadly legacy, such is the extent of the contamination there. However, a huge effort to remove this threat is underway, with help from international NGOs such as CMC members NPA, HI and MAG, as well as the national authorities. With increased support from the global community this deadly threat that impacts the lives of ordinary people in Lao PDR every day could be lifted within our lifetimes.CMC Campaign Manager Amy Little said: "Clinton’s visit has been significant, but we want to see her pledge for support translated into concrete action, and soon! We call on Clinton to hold true to her words to cluster bomb survivor Phongsavath Souliyalat – to ‘do more’. This should mean not only to commit funding for victim assistance and clearance, but also to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions, to demonstrate to the people of Lao PDR, and the whole world, that the US will never use cluster bombs again."Unlike Lao PDR which is a State Party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, the US has not yet joined the treaty, which comprehensively bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions, sets strict deadlines for clearance of contaminated areas and destruction of stockpiles of the weapon, and includes ground-breaking provisions for assistance to victims and affected communities.Instead, the US has sought a weaker alternative law on Cluster Munitions under the framework of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). Fortunately, thanks to the work of the CMC and the international partnership of states who support the existing comprehensive ban, attempts to push through weaker standards failed.