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Speech by UN Resident Coordinator John Hendra at the Workshop on Cluster Munitions

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Event: Cluster Munitions Workshop

Speaker: Mr. John Hendra, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam

Your Excellency Pham Binh Minh, Standing Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Your Excellency Mr. Kjell Storløkken, Ambassador of Norway,
Representatives from the Government of Viet Nam,
Representatives from Embassies and civil society organizations,
International Experts,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are here today to discuss the issue of cluster munitions, and particularly the Oslo process that led to the adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Dublin in May 2008. As UN Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam, I would like to stress that our discussions over the next two days should go beyond the technical aspects of cluster munitions and rather focus on the newly created Convention as a much needed international instrument that will address the humanitarian, development and human rights consequences of the use of cluster munitions.

In short, cluster munitions are designed to disperse upon launching large numbers of smaller bombs called sub-munitions or "bombies". These sub-munitions scatter over a wide area, often killing or injuring civilians if used near populated places. While these bomblets are made to explode immediately upon impact, they often fail to do so and remain unexploded, turning the land into a potentially lethal field for anyone who would venture on it.

As cluster munitions are often brightly coloured and shaped like balls or canisters, children are often particularly attracted to them out of curiosity and therefore they are at particular risk. In some 30 countries and regions, civilians' and childrens' lives and limbs are threatened by the presence of cluster munitions. The vast majority of them are concentrated in five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon and Viet Nam.

Viet Nam is one of the most pertinent examples of how the indiscriminate use of cluster munitions can create significant, immediate damage as well as impede longer term development. It is estimated that since 1975, more than 100,000 Vietnamese have been killed or seriously wounded by unexploded munitions including cluster munitions. Even today, over thirty years after the war has ended, some 100 new casualties are being reported every year. It is even more shocking that, according to recent data, an estimated 62 percent of these casualties are children.

In addition to claiming lives, cluster munitions are also a significant impediment to development at the local level. By making the land unsuitable for agriculture and killing livestock, cluster munitions contribute to household food insecurity. They create health and hygiene problems by blocking access to shelter, water and sanitation. Families who are already poor and have a child or other family member injured must both spend more on medical costs and often lose that family member's contribution to household income. In short, they exacerbate poverty and present barriers to economic recovery and development.

The central provinces of Viet Nam, which are the most contaminated by UXO, are also among the poorest. In Viet Nam, as in so many other countries, it is ordinary citizens that bear the brunt of the impact of cluster munitions. Over the last decade, the Government of Viet Nam and many civil society organizations in Viet Nam have worked tirelessly to render areas safe from the threat of UXO and to support victims. In affected areas, UNICEF provides risk education support to adults and children through existing Government and international NGO programmes. Yet, despite all these efforts, the threat remains and much more is needed to be done.

Until this year, a legally binding treaty directly addressing the devastating effects of these weapons remained conspicuously absent from the international legal architecture. This is now being addressed.

In February 2007, Norway launched a process aimed at concluding an international instrument prohibiting cluster munitions. Since then, through great efforts of a broad-based coalition of Member States, international organizations and civil society, 107 States adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in Dublin last May.

The Convention effectively prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. The Convention will now be opened for signature in Oslo on December 3 of this year, and the United Nations hopes that as many countries as possible will respond positively to the invitation extended by the Government of Norway to all UN Member States.

Countries which ratify the Convention commit to never use, to never develop nor produce cluster bombs, and to never transfer the weapons to any third party. The Treaty also calls for international cooperation to help those countries and communities affected by cluster bombs, and provides groundbreaking provisions for the clearance of cluster munitions remnants and for assisting victims, their families and their communities.

Such a ban will therefore not only protect future generations from the effects of cluster munitions by destroying the billions of sub-munitions currently stockpiled around the world and by removing the threat from communities through enhanced clearance efforts. It will also provide a comprehensive framework for victim assistance.

The United Nations believes that the Convention on Cluster Munitions sets out a much needed, strong and comprehensive new international standard. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon stated on 30 May in Dublin, the Convention will (quote) "enhance the protection of civilians, strengthen human rights and improve prospects for development" (unquote).

The Secretary-General has also accepted depositary functions under the Convention. In doing so, he stated that the entire United Nations system stood ready to support and assist State Parties in implementing their treaty obligations, and encouraged States to sign and ratify this important agreement without delay.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Vietnam has never produced, stockpiled, or used cluster munitions, but it has felt and is still feeling their devastating effects. This is why it is extremely significant that Viet Nam has participated in the Oslo process meetings, and is now considering joining the Convention. Viet Nam participated last week in the South-East Asia Regional Conference on Cluster Munitions that took place in the Xieng-Khuang province of Lao PDR. This Conference was essential in gathering momentum among countries in the region for the newly adopted Convention.

In that context, I very much hope that today's meeting with the participation of representatives from different key Ministries in the Government of Viet Nam, and national and international experts, will be useful in reviewing international experience, and analyzing the different aspects of the Convention and what signature and ratification of the Convention would entail for Viet Nam.

I am therefore particularly happy that this Seminar is organized in Viet Nam. I wish to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the organization of this Workshop, and the Government of Norway for excellent collaboration in supporting it. We hope that the partnership between the Government of Viet Nam, civil society organizations, countries like Norway and the UN in finding ways to address the dreadful consequences of landmines and UXO contamination in Viet Nam -- and globally -- will be strengthened. I also wish to thank all the participants, both national and international, for their presence and the contributions that they will be making to our discussion.

For Governments committed to the protection of civilians, and to overcoming the threat to human development posed by cluster munitions, December 2008 offers a real opportunity for decisive action and I hope that Vietnam can be among the many countries across the world over, together with Cambodia and Lao PDR, that will sign the Convention in Oslo on 3rd December.

On behalf of the United Nations, I wish you all health, happiness and success.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.