So how does the First Meeting of the State Parties (1MSP) to the Convention of Cluster Munitions actually work? Who is attending and what are they doing? There are activities, meetings and events from early morning to late at night. It is exhilarating and exhausting. But everyone is thrilled to be here and to be part of something so important and historic.
Here is brief overview of what goes on:
The Official Sessions of the Parties
- There are official delegates from 137 countries, territories or entities, along with representatives of the United Nations and the European Union: 47 states who have signed and ratified the treaty, another 62 states who have signed but not yet ratified and 28 countries who are here as observers, such as China, Viet Nam and Cambodia. They represent nations from every region of the world. While there are 23 nations affected by cluster munitions, only six are parties to the treaty. The U.S. and Russia are not parties to the treaty and are not attending the meeting.
- Each day the formal meetings of the delegates take place in the huge conference hall at the Don Chan Palace for two to three hours in the morning and again in the afternoon. The delegates discuss different elements of the treaty and the draft Vientiane Action Plan and other documents developed for the implementation of the treaty (prepared prior to the convention).
- There are official dinners, receptions and press conferences, including the wonderful opening ceremonies at the Lao Cultural Center Tuesday morning and the Prime Minister’s gala dinner on Tuesday evening. There are many other smaller meetings going on among countries to discuss changes in the language of the action plan, interpretation of the language in the treaty, financing, time tables etc. There are meetings among the official state delegates and civil society groups who lobby for specific provisions.
- To give a feel for the debates going on – this morning’s discussion focused on the destruction of cluster munitions stockpiles. Eight countries have already completed the destruction of their weapons. Others have varying timetables for completing the task, while some are requesting financial assistance to complete the task. Spain has destroyed most of their weapons, but reserved a certain number for purposes of demining training. The afternoon session was focused on victim assistance for those affected by cluster munitions accidents, including emergency health care, prosthetics, long term rehabilitation and reintegration, as well as the direct tie to overall economic development.
NGOs and Other Civil Society Participants
- In addition to the official delegates of the state parties to the treaty, there are over 400 representatives of NGOs, other citizen groups and individuals who are observers to the proceedings. The majority of groups are members of Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC), which has organized the events and participation of this sector at the convention.
- A daily schedule of so called “side events” includes noon time discussion panels focusing on different issues and the work of specific NGOs and other organizations held in conference rooms at the Don Chan Palace downstairs from the main convention meetings. For example, yesterday I attended a meeting of the European Union (EU) and EU members discussing their proposed financial contributions to the Lao PDR UXO sector (clearance, risk education and victim assistance) over the next three to five years. Today, I went to a presentation by National Regulatory Authority and Lao UXO on UXO work in Laos and the future needs to achieve implement the provisions of the treaty.
- The CMC organized three day-long field trips to Xieng Khouang province for delegates to witness the destruction of cluster bombs in agricultural fields.
- In the evenings, there are receptions held by various organizations, including the CMC opening event at the French Cultural Center, an art exhibition and book launch sponsored by Handicap International, a reception at COPE with a demonstration of wheelchair basketball, interpretive dance and the permanent exhibit on cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance.
- Different organizations have booths with exhibits in the conference halls, including Legacies of War’s exhibit Tapestry of Hope which is outside the entrance.
Much credit must be given to the organizers for keeping events on track and the work moving forward. Somehow, they provide people with food, hotels, and transportation. It’s a huge undertaking with so many people and such an ambitious agenda.
I’m so thrilled to be here and part of it!