Press Kit

 
Press Kit

July 2012

Contents

Media Contact Information:

Ms. Channapha Khamvongsa, Executive Director
Phone: (703) 868-0030
Email: Channapha@legaciesofwar.org

 


 

PRESS RELEASE 

Legacies of War Calls on Secretary Hillary Clinton to Keep the Promise She Made in Laos to Address Past Legacies

July 11, 2012 (Washington, DC) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touched down in Vientiane, Laos, on Wednesday, marking the first time that a U.S. Secretary of State has visited the country since 1955. In addition to meeting with Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong on regional and bilateral issues such as increased U.S. investment and environmental protection, Secretary Clinton made a visit to the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) Center to observe medical and rehabilitation services for amputees, many of whom are victims of explosions from bombs left over from the Vietnam War era. During her visit, Clinton met Phongsavath Souliyalat, who lost both his hands and his eyesight when a friend handed him a cluster bomb on his 16th birthday while walking home from school. Clinton remarked, “We have to do more. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here today, so that we can tell more people about the work that we should be doing together.”

“It’s remarkable to see the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Laos since the end of the war come face to face with the devastating effects of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Now, she must keep her promise to Phongsavath and the people of Laos, who will otherwise live on dangerous land for generations to come,” remarked Channapha Khamvongsa, executive director of Legacies of War, further adding, “We agree wholeheartedly with Secretary Clinton that we can and should do more to end these past legacies.”

Legacies of War pushed for Clinton’s groundbreaking trip to Laos since July 2011, when it joined with six former U.S. Ambassadors/Chiefs of Mission to Laos in encouraging the Secretary to visit the country and to make a long-term commitment to clearing Laos of UXO. Former Ambassador Douglas Hartwick (2001 – 2004) praised Secretary Clinton for making this historic visit to Laos, calling it “a watershed moment in U.S.-Lao relations,” but warned that “progress on economic development and stability in Laos depends on adequate support for clearing priority land for agriculture and development and decreasing the number of UXO casualties.”

“We are hopeful that Clinton’s visit marks the beginning of increased cooperation and good will between the two nations,” remarked Brett Dakin, chair of the board of directors of Legacies of War. “The U.S. has an interest in a secure, prosperous lower Mekong region, but Laos will never achieve its potential as long as one third of its land is contaminated with UXO.” Dakin added, “UXO clearance is a prerequisite for the State Department’s development goals in Laos, especially infrastructure development and food security.” According to a joint UNDP-Lao 2008 report, at least 200,000 additional hectares of land could be made available for rice production if cleared of UXO, leading UNDP to make UXO clearance itself a Ninth Millennium Development Goal specific to Laos.

Secretary Clinton’s next stop is in Cambodia for meetings of ASEAN and the Lower Mekong Initiative, created by her to boost economic and social development in the lower Mekong countries. While in Cambodia, the Secretary is expected to unveil a new aid package to ASEAN countries called the Asia Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative (APSEI), one pillar of which will address war legacies such as UXO.

Legacies of War urges the State Department to respond to growing pressure from Congress and international organizations to clear U.S.-source ordnance around the world, especially in Laos, by including in the APSEI package at least $10 million for UXO clearance in the country for 2013, sustained over the next ten years. Legacies of War will continue to work with champions in Washington and in the community to build on the momentum from Clinton’s visit to secure a commitment from the Administration to significant, sustained funding for UXO clearance, victim assistance, and mine risk education in Laos. See more information about Legacies of War and Clinton’s historic trip to Laos in our press kit, including related news coverage.

Legacies of War was founded in 2004 to raise awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombings of Laos and advocate for greater U.S. funding to clear UXO. Legacies seeks to provide space for healing the wounds of war using art, culture, education, community organizing, and dialogue among the Laotian-American community and the broader U.S. public. The organization is based in Washington, D.C.

For interviews or additional information please contact Channapha Khamvongsa, Executive Director, 703-868-0030, channapha@legaciesofwar.org.

 

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Endorsing a Significant Long-Term Commitment to Clearing Unexploded Ordnance during the Secretary’s Historic Visit to Laos

Secretary Clinton’s upcoming visit to Laos is an excellent opportunity to reinforce to the Lao people and government that the U.S. is committed to providing significant assistance to remove unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the Lao countryside. This opportunity would reaffirm U.S. support recently underscored in the Fourth U.S.-Laos Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue and by Under Secretary Maria Otero, who made UXO cooperation a central element of her June visit to Laos.

While the U.S. government has supported UXO clearance for nearly two decades at modest levels, past funding has not matched the enormity of the problem — only 1% of contaminated land has been cleared, and about one third of Lao soil remains littered with bombs. Victim assistance providers are underfunded, and scores of Laotian people, many children, are injured or killed every year.

The critical importance of significant and sustained funding for UXO clearance in Laos has been recognized by multiple international and U.S. government agencies:

  • In a 2010 report, the State Department Office of the Inspector General called the UXO clearance program one of the most important political and economic activities the U.S. currently pursues in Laos, but warned that it is endangered by inconsistent funding. The program has made many strides in removing deadly UXO from Lao soil in recent years, and “to risk losing such gains would be a poor choice at this moment in the improving U.S.-Lao dialogue.”
  • In 2011, six former U.S. Ambassadors to Laos wrote a joint letter to Secretary Clinton endorsing our call for $10 million per year, sustained over 10 years, “to strengthen and secure the Lao UXO sector’s capacity and bring its already effective programs to scale.”
  • The United Nations has taken the unprecedented step of making UXO clearance a Ninth Millennium Development Goal for Laos.

In the FY 2012 budget omnibus report, Congress specifically recognized the responsibility of the U.S. to prioritize the “clearance of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in areas where such ordnance was caused by the United States,” such as Laos. Draft Senate appropriations report language for FY 2013 reflects this statement by recommending an appropriation of a record $10 million for UXO programs in Laos. Legacies of War believes deeply that the Secretary should make a similar pledge to pursue a long-term, sustained commitment to provide at least $10 million per year, over 10 years, to clear Laos of U.S. bombs, subject to Congressional authorization. With this pledge, Secretary Clinton has the opportunity to bring to an end a 40-year-old legacy of war in Southeast Asia, leaving a new legacy of peace and economic growth with an important ASEAN partner.

Media Contact: Channapha Khamvongsa, Executive Director | 703-868-0030 | channapha@legaciesofwar.org

Background: Legacies of War

What is Legacies of War?

Legacies of War is the only U.S.-based organization dedicated to raising awareness about the history of the U.S. Vietnam War-era bombing in Laos. Our mission is to:

  • advocate for the clearance of unexploded bombs,
  • provide space for healing the wounds of war, and
  • create greater hope for a future of peace.

What are UXO in Laos?

During the Vietnam War era, more than two million tons of ordnance were dropped on Laos. An estimated 30 percent of the ordnance did not explode on impact, leaving at least one third of the land across all 17 provinces in the country contaminated. The Lao Government has determined that UXO contaminates 41 out of the 46 poorest districts in Laos and remains an obstacle for carrying out its national development plans. The threat of deadly unexploded ordnance (UXO) limits Laotian people’s ability to cultivate enough land for food and to maintain secure livelihoods, exacerbating the nation’s extreme poverty.

What is Legacies of War’s strategy to address UXO in Laos?

Legacies is not a direct service or aid organization. We educate and mobilize the Laotian-American and broader U.S. public to help us advocate for increased U.S. funding for clearance, education and awareness, and victim assistance in Laos. Legacies also advocates for increased funding by educating and building relationships with representatives of the State Department, Congress, and the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane, in addition to the Government of the Lao PDR. With this strategy, we leverage our small budget for the greatest impact.

How much has the U.S. historically spent on the UXO sector in Laos?

U.S. assistance to the UXO sector in Laos began in 1993 via the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Leahy War Victims Fund. The State Department began a larger program in 1996-97. According to the State Department, between 1993 and 2009, the U.S. has provided a total of more than $51 million in UXO-related assistance to Laos. As a result of targeted advocacy by Legacies of War in Washington, funding began to increase dramatically in 2010, when the U.S. Congress allocated $5 million for UXO clearance. This was almost double the amount previously allocated. A year later, Congress signaled that UXO removal in Laos should be a major priority, recommending that no less than $9 million be spent to address the issue in fiscal year 2012, the largest dollar amount ever.

What are the prospects for increased U.S. funding for the UXO sector in Laos beyond 2012?

For Fiscal Year 2013, the State Department’s initial request for funding for the UXO sector in Laos is $5 million, but draft Senate Appropriations report language directs that “not less than $10 million” be allocated to removing UXO from Laos.

What is Legacies of War’s goal for U.S. funding for the UXO sector in Laos?

Legacies recommends an annual U.S. commitment of at least $10 million a year over the next 10 years to strengthen and secure the UXO sector’s capacity and bring its already effective programs to scale. [1] In July 2011, six former U.S. ambassadors and chiefs of mission to Laos endorsed this recommendation in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. [2] The State Department Office of Inspections, in a 2010 review of the Embassy in Vientiane, found that while the UXO clearance program is one of the most important political and economic activities the U.S. currently pursues in Laos, it is endangered by inconsistent funding. The program has made many strides in removing deadly UXO from Lao soil in recent years, increasing the land available for farming and development. In the words of the Office of Inspections, “to risk losing such gains would be a poor choice at this moment in the improving U.S.-Lao dialogue.” An annual budget of at least $10 million a year over the next 10 years would allow UXO clearance teams to plan accordingly, scale up operations, and finally get the job done.

Where can I learn more about Legacies of War?

Please visit our website, legaciesofwar.org. Our Executive Director & Chair of the Board are:


Brett Dakin, Chair of the Board

Brett is Chair of the Board of Legacies of War. Brett was drawn to Legacies after living and working in Laos immediately after college.  He is the author of Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos (Asia Books, 2003), and is the chair of the East Asian Studies Advisory Council at Princeton University.

Channapha Khamvongsa, Executive Director

Channapha Khamvongsa is Executive Director of Legacies of War. Channapha was born in Vientiane and came to the U.S. with her parents at the age of seven to escape the bombings. She founded Legacies of War in 2004, inspired by the recovery of historic illustrations drawn by bombing survivors during the “Secret War” in Laos.

Media Contact: Channapha Khamvongsa, Executive Director | 703-868-0030 | channapha@legaciesofwar.org


 

Press Coverage

Legacies of War

Clinton Presses Laos for More Studies on Mekong Dam in Visit,” By Daniel Ten Kate and Nicole Gaouette, Bloomberg Business Week, July 11, 2012
In Laos, Clinton grapples with Vietnam War legacy,” By Arshad Mohammed, Reuters, July 11, 2012
Clinton Makes Historic Visit to Laos,” By Scott Stearns, Voice of America, July 11, 2012
In Laos, Clinton’s chance to undo lethal legacy,” By Channapha Khamvongsa, CNN, July 11, 2012
Viewpoints: U.S. should commit to clear unexploded ordnance in Laos,” By Elaine Russell, The Sacramento Bee, July 11, 2012
The Hill: A historic opportunity for Laos and the U.S.,” by Representative Michael Honda, The Hill, July 11, 2012
Clinton makes historic visit to Laos as US looks to expand its influence in China’s back yard,” by Associated Press, The Washington Post, July 11, 2012
U.S. Urged to Increase Bomb-Clearing Aid for Laos,” by Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, July 10, 2012
Clinton Could End 40-Year-Old Legacy of War,” by Brett Dakin, CSIS, July 9, 2012
Healing the munitions-strewn Laos,” by Jim Pollard, The Nation, June 7, 2011
Making Laos Safer,” by Joshua Lipes, Radio Free Asia, April 23, 2010
Land of a Million Bombs,” Laotian Americans reach out to aid war-torn Laos,” by by Santi Suthinithet, Hyphen Magazine, Dec 20, 2011

Related Coverage

When Chomsky Wept,” Fred Branfman, Salon, June 27, 2012
Laos: the World’s Most Bombed Country,” by Louis Belanger, The Huffington Post, Nov 12, 2010
HONDA: Costly legacy of unexploded bombs,” by Representative Mike Honda, The Washington Times, April 30, 2010
Cluster Bombs, Made in America,” Editorial in The New York Times, June 1, 2008.

Legacies of War Letters, Press Releases, Newsletters

Press Release: Legacies of War Calls on Secretary Hillary Clinton to Keep the Promise She Made in Laos to Address Past Legacies, July 11, 2012
Letter
to Chair and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, March 20, 2012
Letter from Former Ambassadors to House Appropriations Subcommittee, Nov 30, 2011
Letter from Former Ambassadors to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, July 8, 2011
Past Press Releases and Newsletters

Video Links

Video
“Creating a New Legacies,” by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Chapter
Video Legacies of War and historic drawings

Related Resources

Cluster Munitions Monitor
(2010): Lao PDR Country Profile
Fact Sheet National Regulatory Authority for UXO
Remarks from Under Secretary Maria Otero’s Handover of UXO removal equipment
Press Release: State Department on Bilateral Talks between the US and Laos
Report from US State Department on Laos, from To Walk the Earth in Safety: Asia, 2011

Photos & Images

Photos
of UXO and its impact on life in Laos