SPEECH: Ms. Azusa Kubota, UNDP Resident Representative in Lao PDR, a.i. on the occasion of 4th Anniversary of the Entry into Force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions
I feel privileged and honored to be here with you this morning as we celebrate the Fourth Anniversary of the Entry into Force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions or in short, the CCM. As the documentary shown here today clearly demonstrates, no country has felt more deeply the devastating impact of cluster munitions than the Lao PDR.
Despite the human tragedies the cluster munitions have created in the history of mankind, they continue to be used in 35 countries since the first world-war. Worldwide, more than 90% of all recorded cluster munitions casualties have been civilians – mostly farmers and children.
Noting the serious consequences and devastating impacts of cluster munitions, in 2007, Norway initiated a process that brought 108 countries together to negotiate the Convention on Cluster Munitions that prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions. To date, there are 113 signatories.
Not only has Lao PDR played a vital role in the development of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and has been a leading State Party in promoting its universalization, it also hosted the historic first meeting of state parties in 2010.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Government, and people and friends of the Lao PDR on their remarkable work in this regard, and also on the sustained national efforts to eliminate the threat of cluster munitions and other unexploded ordnance or commonly referred to as UXO.
Many of the cluster munitions dropped on Lao PDR remain in the soil as UXO. UXOs pose significant impediments to socio-economic development of countries by preventing the optimal use of land for productive activities, and mostly by confining people to live under fear. Such fear unjustly limits people’s choices in development and freedom, and therefore, poses serious risks to human development and human security.
Estimates show that there have been 20,000 victims of UXO since the end of the Indochina War. As recently as in 2008, approximately 300 people fell victim to UXO in this country.
Although the number of victims has been steadily falling over the past few years, we shall not forget that out of the 41 casualties recorded in 2013, 27, or 66%, were children. This was the highest proportion of children affected since 2008. In 2014, there are already 36 casualties to date, of whom at least 25 are children. Fifteen of them were injured and 10 lost their young lives. It is also alarming that the high number of victims this year may suggest that the steady decrease in the number of UXO victims over the past few years may come to an end if concerted efforts are not immediately made to stop the trend.
As the sole national clearing agency, UXO Lao, continues to clear and release land to communities, not only aiming to provide them the basic right to physical security, but also improving livelihoods and paving the way for infrastructural development.
The effort required to clear the remaining UXO is daunting, and however competent and committed Lao authorities are, such grand tasks cannot be achieved alone. This task requires the efforts of all who are concerned about the future of this beautiful country. As the country experiences remarkable economic growth and prosperity, these gains cannot be optimized or sustained as long as the threats of the UXO are not addressed in a comprehensive and coordinated manner. We, as national and international partners, must work together by coordinating and consolidating our efforts through dialogue and by supporting the sustainability of national efforts by national institutions through a steady and predictable stream of funding and technical assistance.
UNDP is proud to support the efforts of the Lao government and civil society in the UXO sector. In this regard, I am especially pleased to announce that the NRA and UNDP, with generous support from Governments of Switzerland and Australia, will soon be launching a Civil Society Funding Facility aimed at supporting survey and clearance activities, as well as risk education and much needed assistance to UXO survivors. We truly believe that this facility will ensure a more holistic approach to reducing people’s vulnerabilities.
I would like to recognize consistent support provided by international partners. Through the UNDP and Government of Lao - managed Trust Fund, more than 10 donors, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Ireland, the Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Switzerland, the UK and the European Union, have come together to support heroic national efforts by men and women of Lao PDR.
Let me conclude by once again expressing my sincere thanks and appreciation to the Lao government, and to Mr. Bounheuang, in particular, for his personal leadership in the UXO sector. I would like to also acknowledge the contributions of UNDP National Goodwill Ambassador, Miss Alexandra Bounxouei, for helping us raise the awareness of the issue through the documentary, which was premiered today. Lastly, I sincerely appreciate the presence of Ms. Khammerng, who has shown great courage in sharing her story in the film.