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Road map to a mine-free world
December 07, 2009

Road map to a mine-free world
Landmine survivor, JRS staff member and ambassador for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines Tun Channareth leads a community meeting in Cambodia. (Jesuit Refugee Service - Cambodia)
Washington, D.C. (Dec. 7, 2009) – More than 1000 activists, survivors and government delegates celebrated the close of the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World last week with the announcement that four new countries - Albania, Greece, Rwanda and Zambia - are now mine-free. The Summit closed with more than 120 governments adopting the Cartagena Action Plan, a detailed five-year plan of commitments on all areas of mine action including victim assistance, mine clearance, risk education, stockpile destruction and international cooperation. 

"The Cartagena Action Plan provides a clear and concrete roadmap of what is required over the next five years to bring us significantly closer to a mine-free world," said Steve Goose, Head of Delegation of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). "We, as civil society, commit to remain active and engaged to ensure that all of the many declarations of support for the Plan are turned into meaningful actions." 

“This plan spells out in concrete terms what we will do to better meet the needs of landmine survivors,” said the Cartagena Summit President, Susan Eckey of Norway. “It is a strong plan that will require a shared commitment to be implemented. Doing so will get us closer to our aim of a world without anti-personnel mines.”

Jesuit Refugee Service is proud to be among those that shared the Nobel prize for work on the campaign that led to the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997. JRS was founded in response to the abuse of Southeast Asian refugees, many of whom were pushed back at gunpoint while fleeing across international borders only to perish in the minefields that lined them. Thirty years later, we still witness daily and seek to alleviate the suffering of thousands of refugees who have been maimed by mines. In places as far apart as Bosnia and Cambodia, displaced people are still prevented from returning home because their farms and roads are mined; yet in new conflict areas mining still goes on. 

The United States is currently one of only 39 countries that have not yet joined the treaty. In the Western Hemisphere, only the U.S and Cuba are non-signatories. Every other member of NATO except Poland (which has already signed and will ratify in 2012) are also States Parties to the treaty. 

In attending the Cartagena conference, the United States for the first time participated in the work of the Convention and announced that it was reviewing its landmine policy. That statement contradicted a previous statement by Department of State spokesperson Ian Kelly who declared in response to a reporter's question on November 24 that a policy review had been completed and that existing policy would stand. Kelly's original announcement was followed by a fierce outcry from civil society, non-governmental organizations and the international community. 

“The conflicting U.S. policy statements on the landmine issue only serve to illustrate how confused our government's position really is. It has not used, distributed, or produced landmines for many years; but at the same time it maintains an enormous stockpile of these indiscriminate weapons, some decades old, arguing that their existence is somehow necessary to U.S. security. This fact makes it impossible to join the majority of our closest allies in signing the anti-landmine treaty,” said Fr. Kenneth J. Gavin, S.J., Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.

“We need the U.S. to recognize – and accept – that landmines are an outdated, increasingly obsolete weapon and that searching for an alternative for security purposes is no longer a relevant argument for not joining the treaty," said Sylvie Brigot, ICBL Executive Director.

While attending the Second Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty in Cartagena last week as an observer was a step in the right direction, the U.S. could re-assert it’s moral leadership by signing the treaty, Fr. Gavin said.

Since 1993, the United States has given more than $1.5 billion to fund mine clearing and disposal in 47 countries. “Yet the moral influence of the United States in this area is greatly lessened by its unwillingness to sign the international landmine treaty and unequivocally take a stand that the use of these terrible weapons must not be tolerated,” said Fr. Gavin. 

“It is time that the Obama administration resolves muddled U.S. policy on landmines once and for all by signing the landmine treaty and destroying its deadly stockpile. The policy review announced last week should be a short one. President Obama has many difficult foreign policy decisions before him, this should be an easy one,” said Fr. Gavin.

"It was widely agreed by all involved in the Summit that this unique partnership between governments and civil society is the key factor in the Treaty's success to date and must be continued," said Sylvie Brigot, Executive Director of the ICBL. 

Assistance to landmine survivors, their families, and communities figured prominently throughout the Summit. Victim assistance is the area of mine action that has made the least progress in the last ten years. "When it comes to delivering on promises made to victims, we are still only scratching the surface," said Firoz Ali Alizada, ICBL Treaty Implementation Officer and landmine survivor. "Immense challenges remain to provide comprehensive and timely support to survivors and fully respect their rights." 

"We must never forget that this treaty was created with the hope of alleviating the humanitarian harm caused by landmines. When we discuss deadlines and technicalities related to clearance or stockpile destruction, we must not forget that our ultimate goal is to end human suffering," said Margaret Arach Orech, ICBL Ambassador and landmine survivor. 

“The way has been paved for a true mine-free world,” Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said yesterday at a landmine conference in the Colombian city of Cartagena.

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