President Biden, do not send cluster bombs to Ukraine. Look at Laos.
As war rages wildly in Ukraine, the question of whether the United States should supply Ukraine with cluster munitions keeps resurfacing. While the Biden administration doesn’t appear to be considering this request, it’s not an outright “no.”
The president’s answer should be simple and clear – absolutely not.
Cluster munitions should not be discussed if we care about protecting the lives of civilians, especially innocent children. This should not be an option if America had learned our lessons by using them in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam five decades ago.
As someone who fled war-torn Laos, I know firsthand the destruction and pain caused by cluster munitions during and decades after the conflict. The legacy of cluster munitions contamination will impact Ukraine’s economic development, food security and population. I can’t help but see the bleak future of Ukraine in today’s Laos.
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What I learned from talking to bombing survivors
As President of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munition Coalition, I had the opportunity to meet and hear Yong Kham’s story while visiting a demining site in Sepon, Laos last fall. What I first noticed about this 64-year-old man were his eyes. They were like deep, hollow pits that seemed to draw me in, begging me to ask: What was haunting this man?
I learned that he and his family endured the nine-year U.S.-led air war from 1964 to 1973. Most of his childhood was spent in a muddy, fetid trench or dark cave to avoid the death by bombardment. He was injured during one of the raids by a cluster bomb. He survived it, but two siblings weren’t so lucky.
Decades later, in 2003, her eldest son, Tong Dum, was killed by cluster bombs while collecting wood and rubbish. His life was just beginning at the age of 21.
When asked why he bravely shared his story with me, Yong Kham replied, “I don’t want this to happen again. No country should have to suffer from these bombs.
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The trauma of having to face war, witness and/or endure multiple atrocities inflicted by indiscriminate weapons like cluster munitions prevents many survivors from telling their stories and speaking out.
When they do, the world must listen. Stand in solidarity with people like Yong Kham and fight boldly to prevent further crimes against humanity.
Unexploded cluster munitions can kill decades later
Although the last known use of cluster munitions by the United States was in Yemen, in 2009, the United States has yet to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions, banning the use of cluster munitions. use, transfer and storage of these hideous weapons.
More than 100 countries have already joined the agreement, the latest being Nigeria in February, showing that banning such weapons is an international norm.
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The US stockpile of cluster munitions is now estimated at around 1 billion submunitions, but the arsenal does not meet the standard prohibited by the convention.
US policy shows it wants to move in the right direction by banning the export and use of cluster munitions that exceed a failure rate of 1%. While this is progress, we can do better by joining the Convention on Cluster Munitions, eliminating these immoral weapons and promoting global peace and security.
US attacks using cluster munitions in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s, the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the former Yugoslavia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, Iraq in 2003 and Yemen in 2009 are lingering ghosts of our past.
Although these conflicts have ended, the scars left are still very real. In my native Laos, since the last bomb was dropped 50 years ago, only 1% of the contaminated area has been cleared, which endangers children on their way to school and land taken hostage preventing farmers from planting crops.
Today, it is clear that cluster munitions are having a devastating effect on civilians in Ukraine, as seen in the brutal attack on a train station in April that killed dozens of civilians. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also reported several Russian strikes using cluster bombs since last year’s invasion.
Let us not contribute to further atrocities by allowing Ukrainian soil to be littered with American cluster bombs.
Sera Koulabdara is CEO of Legacies of War and Chair of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Coalition Against Cluster Munitions. Follow on Twitter: @SeraKoulabdara And @legacyofwar