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A crucial summit in Nairobi: Let's end the era of antipersonnel mines

30-11-2004 Article, International Herald Tribune

This article by Jakob Kellenberger, President of the ICRC, was published by the "International Herald Tribune" on 30 November 2004

Ten years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross joined the call for a global ban on antipersonnel land mines. It did so because of the pleading of its medical staff who were witnessing, and treating, what they considered a global epidemic of death and injury caused by antipersonnel mines.

These weapons were doing just what they were designed to do - sitting silently for days, months or decades and then blowing apart the person who steps on them. Most victims were civilians killed or wounded after conflict rather than combatants during conflict.

The injuries caused by antipersonnel mines continue to be among the worst that our war surgeons treat. Growing public abhorrence with the devastating effects of antipersonnel mines on civilians led governments to adopt, in record time, the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of Antipersonnel Mines.

This week, ministers and other senior officials from the 143 states that signed the convention have gathered in Nairobi to review the impressive progress made in the five years the convention has been in force and to establish a plan of action for the years ahead. Land-mine survivors from every corner of the globe will join them, to remind the world of the suffering these abhorrent weapons continue to inflict on every continent. The Nairobi summit meeting will be crucial in determining whether the promises of this unique convention are fulfilled.

The adoption of the land-mine convention marked the first time that countries had agreed to pro hibit completely a weapon that was already in widespread use. The convention is also unique in that it provides a comprehensive program of action for ending the epidemic of land-mine injuries through a combination of international humanitarian law and arms-control provisions.

Not only does the convention set deadlines for the elimination of antipersonnel mines, through clearance of infested areas and stockpile destruction, but it also commits countries to providing assistance for victims and mine risk education for affected communities. The implementation of these commitments has produced one of the most inspiring examples of international cooperation in recent years.

In only five years, the convention's prescription for ending the epidemic of land-mine injuries has proved its effectiveness. In several countries where its provisions are being implemented, the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, has witnessed a reduction in the number of new mine victims by two-thirds or more. Three quarters of the world's countries, including most mine-affected countries, have joined the convention. Together they have destroyed more than 37 million antipersonnel mines.

Although the land-mine epidemic has been contained, it has not yet been eradicated. The five years after this week's Nairobi meeting will be the real test of the convention's effectiveness. Mine-affected countries, many of them poor or struggling to recover from war, will face the huge challenge of clearing all mined areas to meet deadlines that begin in 2009. The resources devoted to mine clearance will have to be increased considerably to ensure that these deadlines are met.

Another critical challenge will be to achieve a clear improvement in the situation of land-mine victims. Those who survive an antipersonnel mine blast typically lose one or more limbs. As with other disabled, they require long-term support for physical rehabilitation, and to avoid falling fur ther into poverty and isolation, they need to learn new skills and find employment. These services are still inadequate or nonexistent in most mine-affected countries. The Nairobi meeting must adopt an ambitious action plan that ensures progress in this area in the coming years.

The convention has had a profound impact on the worldwide use, transfer and production of antipersonnel mines. It has led even countries that are not yet party to it to nearly halt the trade in these weapons and to limit their production. Still, several major military powers, some holding vast stockpiles of antipersonnel mines, must be persuaded to join the convention soon. Whenever any country reserves itself the right to use antipersonnel mines by remaining outside of the convention, it provides the justification for other countries and armed groups to do the same.

The promises made seven years ago in Ottawa will be kept if governments come to Nairobi prepared not only to celebrate their many achievements, but also to reaffirm their pledges and to increase the mobilization of resources in the coming five years.

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