This post is the second in a series of dispatches from Lynn Bradach, who is currently traveling in Laos, the world’s most heavily cluster-bomb-contaminated country. She lost her son Travis, a U.S. Marine, when his team in Iraq accidentally detonated an unexploded cluster bomb submunition. Lynn is a member of Handicap International’s Ban Advocates, a group of people who lost loved ones or were themselves injured by a landmine or cluster munition. Members use their personal experience with these weapons to advocate for international treaties banning landmines and cluster bombs.
Yesterday was a whirlwind of activity. It started with attending a celebration of the fourth anniversary of the Cluster Munition Convention (CMC), the treaty which bans the use of cluster bombs. The event opened with a very powerful documentary about a Laotian woman whose husband's tragic encounter with a cluster munition led to his death and life-long injuries for her. It really drove home why we must work to promote the adoption of the CMC. No one should be afraid of dying from a bomb left from a war that ended more than 40 years ago.
In the afternoon, I and fellow Ban Advocates Seevanh Xaykia and Thoummy Silamphan attended a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador, Daniel A. Clune. I can't tell you how proud I was that this man is our Ambassador for Laos. Not only was he aware of cluster munition situation in Laos but he was also very engaged in finding ways to help. During the meeting, I presented Ambassador Clune with a Handicap International petition containing the signatures of nearly 50,000 Americans demanding that U.S. join the Mine Ban Treaty. He graciously accepted the petition.
Afterwards, I went to a Handicap International event celebrating 20 years of work by the Lao government to clear cluster muntions. I was able to give a speech during the event:
“I was inspired to become an advocate for this cause when I lost my son Travis. He was a U.S. Marine killed in a clearance operation in Iraq in 2003. I know all too well the danger and sorrow these inhumane weapon cause and I applaud the bravery of the men and women who work to clear them.
I want to commend the Laos government for taking the steps to make this work a priority. By taking this action you have prevented hundreds if not thousands of people from becoming victims. You have helped to restore the land so that it can once again be used for farming—a way to sustain life, not take it away.
It is indeed very important to celebrate this achievement. But it is also important to remember that there is still much to do. We must remember the responsibility we have to the victims of these weapons. We must continue to work together to bring countries such as the U.S. on board in banning these weapons. The U.S. has done much in giving aid but it is time to ask for more in monetary and technical assistance. They must not forgot the 50 year legacy of suffering that Laos has had to endure because of the U.S. war with Vietnam.
Laos has accomplished much in the last twenty years but I look forward to seeing what can be achieved in the next 20 years with strengthened international partnerships. Is it possible that someday Laos might be free of cluster bombs and landmines? I do believe it is.”
After the event, I had a lovely relaxing dinner with a view of Mekong River with flashes of lighting appearing in the sky from time to time. Someday, lighting, and not the explosion of weapons, will be the only unexpected flash lighting up the sky in Laos.