President Obama to make historic Laos visit


Editors: experts available in Laos, Europe, and Washington, DC. Contact Mica Bevington for details

This week, U.S. President Barack Obama will be the first sitting American president to ever visit Laos. His historic trip comes more than 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, during which the U.S. dropped more than two million metric tons of bombs on Laos, including more than 270 million sub-munitions.

The President will be in the country for the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit from September 6–8, 2016. However, he is expected to visit with survivors, and to comment on the U.S. commitment to support the clearance of explosive remnants of war left in Laos.

Through the end of 2014, Laos reported at least 50,570 mine/ERW casualties (29,522 killed; 21,048 injured).

Indeed, an estimated 30% of sub-munitions dropped in the 1960 and 1970s did not explode on impact. And according to the Cluster Munition Monitor 2016, sub-munition remnants (the ones that didn't explode on impact) have killed or injured more than 7,600 people in Laos since 1964, and continue to cause new casualties every year. Around 70 million of these mini-bombs are scattered across Laos. Laos is the world's most heavily sub-munitions polluted country. Indeed, the Monitor reports that an estimated 35% of the country's territory is polluted.

This deadly legacy has contaminated almost 25% of the country’s villages, particularly along its eastern border. Handicap International has worked in Laos since 1983, and taking part in demining projects there since 2006. Within eight years, the organization has secured 25,000 unexploded devices.

The U.S., one of the world’s leading financial supporters of efforts to clear anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance worldwide, and particularly in Laos, must sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of sub-munitions worldwide[1]. There are now 100 States Parties to the Convention and 19 Signatory States.

In 2015, civilians accounted for 97% of all global casualties of cluster bombs, according to the Monitor. These weapons kill, injure, maim, and cause serious psychological trauma. Up to 40% of the weapons do not explode on impact. They render whole areas uninhabitable, prevent the return of normal social and economic life, and displace people from their homes. These explosive remnants pose a threat to civilians, sometimes for decades after a conflict has ended, as has been the case in Laos.

In 2015 alone, Handicap International demining teams cleared 2,432 submunitions, 21 bombs, 1,256 other UXO, and two landmines. Other teams worked with survivors to increase their economic and livelihood opportunities.

More information

  • To read the full Laos profile in this year's Monitor, click here.

[1] The 2016 Cluster Munition Monitor, which is coordinated by Handicap International with three other NGOs, is the seventh annual report of its kind. It reports on a complete range of sub-munition issues including ban policy, use, production, trade and stockpiling around the world. It also provides information on contamination by these weapons, weapons clearance and victim assistance.