On 25 September, 2009 France and Burundi formally ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, making them the 20th and 21st States to ratify this international humanitarian treaty which prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions. It also sets out obligations to assist victims of this deadly ordnance, and their families and communities, as well as mobilizing international resources to clear contaminated countries such as Vietnam. Vietnam’s neighbor, Laos P.D.R., was the first nation to sign the treaty at a ceremony in Oslo in December 2008. Since then 100 nations have signed. With France and Burundi now the 20th and 21st nations to ratify, only 9 more ratifications will bring this crucial treaty into force.
During this process, Project RENEW has provided support to Pham Quy Thi, a Vietnam cluster bomb survivor who is a strong campaigner with the “Ban Advocates” initiative sponsored by Handicap International Belgium. Thi’s participation with HI and the efforts of other cluster bomb victims around the globe helped build momentum that led to the treaty signing in Oslo in December.
Thi suffered serious injuries when he hit a cluster bomb while working in his rice field in Hai Lang District in 1977. He was only 23 years old. The explosion claimed his right hand and caused serious injuries to his abdomen. A number of metal fragments are still lodged in his body.
In his story published on the Ban Advocates Blog, Thi expressed his hope that the treaty would help clean up all contaminated areas in Vietnam, so that he and others would be able to work without fear, and so that explosives left over from the war would no longer pose a risk to local people.
Thi has become quite well known in his home village for his active role as leader of the club for people with disabilities, many of whom, like Thi, have been injured and disabled by explosive ordnance. Thi has helped organize vocational training opportunities for disabled people to earn independent incomes and reintegrate into their communities.
Thi has also achieved a few moments of fame beyond Vietnam. At the cluster munitions convention in Dublin, Ireland, Thi represented disabled victims from all over the world when he spoke at an international press conference on the stage with Lord Alfred Dubs, British member of Parliament, and Sen. Patrick Leahy (DVt.), member of the U.S. Senate who introduced legislation that prohibits the U.S. from exporting cluster munitions to any other country. The Leahy bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama in March of this year.
Vietnam is not known to have ever used, produced, stockpiled, or transferred cluster munitions to any other country. Vietnam has not yet signed or ratified the treaty. Yet Vietnam remains heavily devastated by the widespread use of cluster munitions by the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. The contamination of explosive ordnance including cluster munitions has claimed over 100,000 deaths and injures since the war ended in 1975, and the residual threat requires extensive clearance operations today.
There is a strong expectation among the international community that the Government of Vietnam will join the convention by signing and ratifying the treaty very soon. Vietnam’s participation would secure much greater international assistance for efforts such as Project RENEW, to help overcome the continuing effects of the war and to bring greater hope and opportunity to the survivors of cluster munitions and other explosive ordnance.