Survivors To Campaigners

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Soraj Ghulam Habib: one of Ban Advocates member who lost both of his legs and one finger in a cluster munition explosion in 2001 in Herat, Afghanistan

“Ladies and Gentlemen, first of all, I would like to thank the host country, Indonesia, for organizing such an important conference in Asia as the most cluster munitions affected region in the world. It is an honor for me to speak on behalf of the thousands of cluster bomb survivors in this important conference.” Mr Thi’s voice was firm when addressing the audience of over 50 high level representatives from 21 nations[1] that came together in Bali for two days at the Regional Conference on the Promotion and Universalization of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Pham Quy Thi is a cluster bomb survivor from Vietnam. In 1977 while he was working in his rice field, he accidentally hit a cluster bomb and lost his right arm. “Suddenly I became an amputee, I was too depressed to live but thanks to support from the community and my family, I survived the tragedy and continue working to support my children. But to this day, a number of metal fragments are still lodged in my body.”

More than three decades after the war ended in Vietnam, explosive remnants, including unexploded cluster bombs still pose a deadly threat to the lives and livelihoods of the people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. More than 100,000 people have been killed or injured because of explosive remnants of war. “I have a dream,” said Mr Thi, “of a peaceful world in which cluster munitions are banned by all countries forever for the sake of our children who will have a safe environment to study and prosper. Therefore, I call on more countries to jointly participate in this global effort to make it happen by signing, ratifying and putting the convention into practice and implement the Convention very soon.” Mr Thi is one of the 35 campaigners attending the conference and taking the opportunity to not only telling

his story as a survivor but also asking governments to prevent future incidents by banning Cluster Munitions once and for all by joining the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

During the session on ‘Perspectives from the Most Affected Countries of Cluster Munitions and Victims’ another victim, Miss Nguyen Thi Huong spoke from the podium. “In 1991 my husband had a cluster bomb accident while working in our own garden. Because of the explosion, my husband lost his left leg and more painfully, my then four-year-old daughter who was playing near her father was killed. I still feel terrified whenever I recall it. The accident caused a huge pain and nothing can compensate these losses to my life. My family has encountered a lot of difficulties since then because my husband as the breadwinner was made permanently disabled, thus placing all family affairs on my shoulders.”

After Laos PDR, the most cluster munitions contaminated country in the world, Vietnam is one of the most affected countries currently. In Miss Huong’s home province alone, cluster bomb accidents account for about 35% of the total casualties since the war ended. Children are the most vulnerable to the cluster bomb risk because of their restless and curious nature. “Last July in Hai Lang District, three children were killed on the spot because of cluster munitions while herding buffaloes. Obviously, the impact of cluster munitions is enormous, not only to my family but also to the community. There is no peace of mind for those who have to work on contaminated land. Most of the cluster bombs survivors, such as my husband, lost their working ability forever, resulting in a huge burden on their families and the society as well,” Ms Huang stated.

Survivors of cluster munitions incidents are an important part of the success story of the campaign to ban cluster munitions. It is the engagement of people like Mr Thi and Ms Huong that get governments from around the world to give up old practices and unrealistic security concerns to join the supporters of a ban of this ‘dirty weapon’ whose remaining bomblets claimed in 2008 alone 125 casualties including 52 children and this only being the number of recorded incidents.[2]

 What is a Cluster Bomb?

Cluster bombs are large weapons containing multiple – often hundreds – of smaller bomblets. Housed like peas in a pod, the container opens in the air and scatters the bomblets over a wide area – sometimes the size of several football fields. This means that their impact is not limited to one precise military target, but injures and kills many civilians during an attack. If the bomblets don’t explode on contact then they become in essence randomly scattered Anti-personal landmines waiting to take victims for days, months, years and even decades like is the case in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia where civilians  face the danger of an bomblet encounter since three decades while farming or children while playing. The legacy of cluster munitions is one of fear and suffering caused to civilian victims and their families that often loses all hope and the essential means of income, when the bread winner of the family gets maimed or killed.

As before in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines it is important for survivors to become key campaigners for the international convention on Cluster Munitons, the weapons that impacted on their lives in such a terrible way. The 12 Ban Advocates from Afghanistan, Laos and Vietnam attending the conference are a leading example of the strength and the will of people going through shock and depression after losing not only their limbs but often also members of their family. Then finding the strength and courage to change the curse of future so that no one

else has to suffer what they went through. For this to be achieved it needs not only the ban and destruction of all cluster munitions but also international support for clearance of contaminated areas as well as assistance for the victims in facing the challenges of living with a disability in some of the poorest countries of the region.

The Regional Conference in Bali was a further step to the “Entry into Force” for this new International Convention, which after one year already recorded 103 signatures and 24 ratifications and now only needs another six countries ratifications before its regulations regards stockpile destruction, clearance of contaminated areas and destruction of remaining cluster munition bomblets on the ground, risk education and victims assistance as well as in regards to international assistance become binding for the states party to it.

Soraj Ghulam Habib lost both of his legs and one finger in a cluster munition explosion in 2001 in Herat, Afghanistan preventing him from attending school, playing with other children, and participating in other social activities. He became a campaigner against Cluster Munitions and stated at the conference, “At the time, cluster munitions destroyed my dreams. If you do not want to have your citizens, in particular your children, face the challenges I am facing, as many countries as possible, and especially in this hugely affected region, must sign, ratify and implement the Convention to save the lives of human beings from the nasty effects of cluster munitions. We, the Ban Advocates, came here to the Conference for your support and we are ready to work with you and our governments at national level in developing action plans for the support of victims to meet their needs. Survivors know best what they need. So listen to us”.

Lars Stenger

[1] The 21 governments attending included Afghanistan, Austria, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, Thailand, and Vietnam along with UNDP, UNMAS, ICRC, and the GICHD. The Conference had a high level of attendance of non-signatory states; nearly equal to the number of CCM Signatories participating. The Conference was particularly significant as while the Southeast Asian region is the most heavily affected by cluster munitions, only 12 of the 40 countries in the region have signed the CCM.


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