School of Law professor will travel to South Lebanon to aid in the clearance of cluster munitions

University of St. Thomas School of Law Associate Professor Virgil Wiebe will spend part of his Easter holiday close to the Holy Land where he will work on a project that has been part of his scholarship for the past decade. 

As a member of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) America board of directors, he will visit South Lebanon where a staff of more than 350 is working to clear unexploded cluster munitions and ordnance left from the 2006 conflict between Lebanon and Israel. He will be there April 9 through 12.

Between July 12 and Aug. 14, 2006, munitions carrying an estimated 1.2 million cluster bomblets were fired into South Lebanon. As many as 400,000 of these bomblets (submunitions) failed to explode. The Mine Action Coordination Center, South Lebanon, has calculated that this contamination has affected 34.5 million square meters of land across South Lebanon, presenting a significant risk to the lives and health of those attempting to return home and rebuild their lives.

“Use of cluster munitions has had immediate and long-lasting effects on civilians,” Wiebe said.  He noted that children sometimes mistake the unexploded munitions as toys, hinder access to agricultural lands, prevent the return of refugees, and impede education.  Nearly half a million people are affected in the region.

Immediately following the signing of the ceasefire between Lebanon and Israel on Aug. 15, 2006, MAG deployed Battle Area Clearance Teams to South Lebanon to begin clearing the threat.  Over the past seven months, MAG teams have destroyed more than 13,000 explosive remnants.

Wiebe has been an active participant in the efforts to curb the use of landmines and cluster bombs in armed conflicts. As a consultant to the Mennonite Central Committee, he has attended United Nations conferences on landmines and conventional weapons, and has addressed diplomats on international humanitarian law matters. 

A member of the St. Thomas School of Law faculty since 2002, he teaches immigration law, is director of clinical education and co-directs the university’s Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services. He has written several journal papers in recent years on topics related to cluster bombs.

Others  participating in this trip include retired Ambassador Barbara Bodine, who was the U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 1997 to 2001, and Steve Solow, partner in the international law firm Hunton & Williams.