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Cambodia: towards the extinction of landmines

23-12-2011 Feature

Since the 11th Meeting of States Parties (11MSP) to the Mine Ban Treaty in Phnom Penh, Cambodia ended, moments of sadness, joy and hope still linger on. As landmine survivors and policymakers shared the same stage, the full gamut of emotions punctuated the official and diplomatic protocols.

"I am so proud of what we have done to move the world closer to an elimination of all mines," said Song Kosal, who greeted participants one by one at the entrance of the Peace Palace where the week-long meeting to map out progress in ending the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel mines took place. Despite losing a leg from a landmine, Kosal was a ball of energy, testament to her early involvement with the movement. "I was 11 years old when I went to Vienna [in 1995] to speak about landmines," she said. Advocacy has come naturally to her. In the decade to come, Kosal would be raising awareness about the issue throughout the globe.

Ottawa Treaty a cathartic moment

For Kosal, an early beneficiary of ICRC's Orthopedic Centre in Battambang, and other survivors of mines and cluster munitions, the signing of the Ottawa Treaty in 1997 was a cathartic moment. "My English wasn't so good then and there were big crowds, but I remembered everyone was very happy," said Kosal, who is also the youth ambassador for International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). She is one of the many individuals at the forefront of the global movement that now has 158 state parties committed to stop using landmines, clear those already in the ground, help survivors and destroy all stockpiles.

"This is a moment of reckoning for many. Twenty years ago, people would have laughed if you said one day landmines would be obsolete," said Boris Cerina, the ICRC's Asia regional manager for the weapon contamination programme. "Things have come full circle in Cambodia. This treaty has successfully stigmatized landmines, shrinking their markets to just a few countries."

Physical rehabilitation and income-generating projects

In the 32 years that the ICRC has been working in Cambodia, helping survivors cope with the consequences of landmines and cluster munitions has always been one of the main priorities. This includes physical rehabilitation and supporting income generating projects for mine survivors through the Cambodian Red Cross. ICRC also helps prevent further casualties by supporting the Cambodian Red Cross' risk education and micro finance activities.

In the area of physical rehabilitation, the ICRC has handed over the running of its two rehabilitation centres to Cambodia's Ministry of Social Welfare, Veterans, Youth and Rehabilitation (MoSVY). Though now wholly independent, the two centres in Battambang and Kampong Speu provinces, which provide orthopaedic assistance to survivors of mines, cluster munitions or disabling illnesses such as polio, are still supported by the ICRC. The working relationship is collegial. Keo Phalla, who helps run the Kampong Speu centre, helped out at the ICRC booth at 11MSP.

The event helps as a springboard too for the disabled, whose profile has been raised by the media attention. "The disabled, in general, have been seen as a burden for society," said Eang Chan Dara, programme officer with Cambodian Disabled People's Organisation. Though the government has made much progress policy-wise – notably in the new design of the Peace Palace, which is disabled-friendly – the attitude of the people needs to change as well for any real development to take place. "We're making our way, slowly but surely."

New generation provides impetus towards eradication

The most invigorating part of the weeklong event was to be able to see the new generation taking up the cause. In parallel with the official meetings, "Youth Leaders Forum 2011" trained a new wave of leaders on tools such as results-based management (RBM), which could be useful in planning and fundraising. The training was rigorous. These young leaders were kept busy with stimulating case studies and activities such as organizing an official dinner together complete with cultural shows (team building and cross-cultural exercise), explained Matthew Campbell, one of the trainers.

"We're the young blood. And we have to carry this torch forward," said a young Pakistani participant. The room roared in applause. There is some distance left to go towards the total eradication of landmines, but the impetus is there.


Photos

ICRC Vice President Olivier Vodoz shakes hands with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen at the opening of 11MSP. 

ICRC Vice President Olivier Vodoz shakes hands with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen at the opening of 11MSP.
© ICRC

 

Delegates at the 11th annual meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (11MSP) at Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
© ICRC / K. Suchaovanich

Youth Leaders discuss ways to make the world mine-free.  

Youth Leaders discuss ways to make the world mine-free.
© ICRC / K. Suchaovanich

Delegates in the plenary session convened to plot the progress of the Mine Ban Treaty. Everyone who signed up for the Treaty is accountable.   

Delegates in the plenary session convened to plot the progress of the Mine Ban Treaty. Everyone who signed up for the Treaty is accountable.
© ICRC