Delclaration on the
long-term consequences of war
in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam
Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
"The past, far from disappearing
or lying down and being quiet, has an
embarrassing and persistent way of returning and haunting us,
unless it has in fact been dealt with adequately."
- Desmond Tutu, recipient of Nobel Peace Prize 1984
Wars do not end when the bombs stop falling
and the fighting stops. The devastation continues long after,
in the land and in the minds and bodies of the people. Years have
passed since the conclusion of the wars that for decades tormented
Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; but throughout the region, innocent
victims are still suffering.
People continue to be maimed and killed by the millions of explosive
devices left behind from the war. The victim is often a child
who chances upon a landmine or unexploded bomb while playing with
friends or walking to school; or it may be a farmer whose plow
strikes a shell hidden in the earth. These human tragedies affect
entire families and communities. During peacetime, there have
been at least 50,000 deaths in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, plus
countless injuries. The number continues to grow, month after
Intense and widespread U.S. bombing of
rural areas, land-clearing with tractors, spraying of defoliants,
and other war-related devastation laid waste to vast tracts of
valuable fields and forests. Ecosystems were destroyed, leaving
wastelands dominated by worthless grasses and weeds. Large areas
cannot be farmed due to the persistent danger of landmines and
unexploded ordnance (UXO).
Other remnants of the war work their damage
less visibly, but no less destructively. Over 72 million liters
of defoliating chemicals were sprayed on the fields and forests
of Vietnam, and an unknown amount on the countryside of Cambodia
and Laos. The toxic by-products of their manufacture still remain
in hazardous "hot spots"- the highly contaminated sites
of accidents, spills, and military bases- causing serious risk
to health in surrounding populated areas.
The most toxic and persistent of these
unintended by-products is dioxin, which has been linked to a growing
list of infirmities, including several forms of cancer, the birth
defect spina bifida, type 2 diabetes, and disorders of the nervous,
immune and endocrine systems. Internationally recognized research
also suggests possible links to several other birth defects and
Many children of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam
who are afflicted by these consequences of war require lifelong
care from families already burdened with poverty and, in many
cases, with other war-related injuries and illnesses. There is
a need for additional scientific research on the health effects
of dioxin, especially research that can yield direct humanitarian
benefits such as locating hot spots that qualify as hazardous
by international standards and guidelines. Humanitarian assistance
to victims, identified on the basis of criteria established by
responsible national authorities, should be immediate and ongoing;
it cannot await definitive scientific conclusions.
Much has been done by the peoples of Cambodia,
Laos and Vietnam to assist victims, reclaim the land, and rebuild
villages, towns and infrastructure. In this they have been aided
by numerous individuals and organizations from around the world.
That aid must not diminish as new problems challenge the conscience
of the world. Moreover, the resources thus far available, both
locally and internationally, are far short of the need.
A full accounting, based on information
available to the U.S. government from in-country surveys and records
of both overt and covert military operations, must be provided
to determine the scope and impact of the use of chemicals during
The 27th International Conference of Red
Cross and Red Crescent- responsible for maintaining and updating
the Geneva Agreements on the Rules of War- concluded in 1999 that
belligerent parties "should endeavor, wherever appropriate,
to engage in post-conflict discussion with respect to aiding the
victims of war". It is long past time to apply this principle
to the costly legacy of war in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
The peoples and governments of those countries
have demonstrated a generous spirit towards former enemies and
do not seek to perpetuate the hostility of war. But they do seek
assistance. The world community, especially the U.S. government
along with those corporations and other countries that were directly
or indirectly involved in the production and use of the weapons
at issue, must respond to that appeal by addressing today the
enduring consequences of the past in a spirit of restorative justice.
In the name of humanity and simple decency,
we call on the United Nations and on all people of conscience
and good will, personally and through the actions of their governments,
to support a large-scale effort to address the present and continuing
impact of war on the lives, livelihoods and environment of the
peoples of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Recommendations for Action
Research: Undertake comprehensive surveys
of areas seriously affected by the war in order to facilitate
documentation for land-use planning and reforestation in wetland
and inland ecosystems.
Rehabilitation: Improve the means of livelihood
for local peoples in those areas to encourage development of sustainable
Capacity-building: Provide multidisciplinary
training of technical specialists in habitat restoration and conservation
of inland and coastal ecosystems.
Assistance: Provide concrete assistance
to victims, including medical care, surgery, rehabilitation, prosthetics,
wheelchairs and other assistive devices, as well as social support
to their families.
Education: Disseminate information about
risks, and means of mitigation.
Containment and clearance: Identify toxic-waste
hot spots and landmines/UXO sites. Help residents to overcome
the psychological and economic difficulties of relocation. Contain
hot spots, and contain or clear landmine/UXO sites.
Research: Investigate the effects of dioxin
on public health in the context of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam,
including the character of disease, its prevention, and methods
Economic & Social Development
Reconstruction: Create a large-scale,
post-conflict environmental and social reconstruction program,
integrated into ongoing national development strategies.
Integration: Bring the wider environmental
consequences of war into international planning for economic and
Ethics, Law, Policy
International standards: Apply established
environmental standards contained in national laws and international
treaties, including the Agreement on Persistent Organic Pollutants
(POPs), that mandate immediate action. Many aspects of Agent Orange
problems and landmine/UXO sites can be contained or cleaned up
now, given adequate commitment and resources.
Useful precedents: Identify and apply
precedents of funds established in many countries to deal with
toxic-waste sites, for example U.S. legislation to clean up Formerly
Used Defense Sites (FUDS).
Lessons: Prohibit use of herbicides as
offensive or defensive weapons of war.
Public education: Promote worldwide education
on the long-term consequences of war for the peoples and environment
of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Adopted 28 July 2002 in Stockholm, Sweden,
by the Environmental Conference on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam
(formerly entitled the Vietnam Environmental Conference)