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Let's Talk Human Rights

2023 Summer Fellowship: Demining Advocacy with Legacies of War

By Kadiatou Toure '24

Legacies of War (LoW) is an organization that was founded in 2004 to spread awareness about the American Secret War in Laos and the US involvement in Southeast Asia. Their goal is to secure funding for the removal of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Between 1964 and 1973, the US conducted a public war in Vietnam. At the same time, it waged a secret war in Laos. The Johnson and Nixon administrations sought to hide US military operations in Laos, officially a neutral country, and directed the war there without ever informing Congress. America’s secret war extended a history of injustice and misfortunes that the Lao people had struggled with for over 500 years. 

One reason for extending the war into Laos, as explained recently by journalist George Black, was to disrupt the supply lines of communist North Vietnamese forces, which ran along both sides of the Vietnam-Laos border. Over the nine years of the war, American and allied pilots dropped 2 millions tons of ordnance on Laos, making it the most bombed nation in history. Only in 1971 did a congressional hearing make the secret war known to the public. The US ultimately withdrew from the conflict two years later, with the last bomb dropped on Laos fifty years ago in August 1973.

fullsizerender-3.jpegLegacies of War CEO Sera Koulabdara speaks with an American Veteran of the Secret War at Dayton's International Peace Museum (Photo: Kevin Kelly)

This massive bombardment had a large and lasting impact on the people living in the affected areas. About a third of the American bombs had failed to explode on impact, leaving UXO littered around the countryside. This UXO continues to pose a threat to farmers and children. Overall, 50,000 people  have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance since 1964.

Sera Koulabdara fled the bomb contamination in Laos with her family at the age of six. She now serves as the CEO of Legacies of War. Together with her team, she advocates for Congress to increase funding for bomb clearance in Laos, as well as Vietnam and Cambodia. Although it took some time, in 2016 President Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Laos, and pledged to double the existing annual support for UXO clearance. 

When I started my fellowship with Legacies of War, I had limited knowledge about the secret war or the advocacy work required to remove UXO. I wasn’t expecting to gain so much knowledge from this fellowship. I was blessed to research and communicate the issues that LoW is trying everyday to tackle, whether through spreading awareness with Congress, podcasts, or creating articles. I am proud to have been able to tackle the issues they are focusing on.

As a senior it may seem like my time at UD is beginning to end, but for me it has just started. And I am grateful for LoW expanding my worldview on what human rights work can be.

Kadiatou Thithia Toure is a fourth year student studying English with a minor in Anthropology. She is from Columbus, Ohio but grew up in Guinea. On campus she is a part of many organizations including MEC, DPE, and HRC. Due to the summer fellowship, she has decided to stay an extra semester to minor in Human Rights Studies since gaining a new understanding of protecting and promoting rights that we all deserve.

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