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Launching of the International Media Campaign on Anti-personnel Landmines by the ICRC and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

22-11-1995 Statement

Statement by Cornelio Sommaruga, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Press Conference, Geneva, 22 November 1995

Dear friends and colleagues from the international media,

I have invited you here today not only to speak of the humanitarian tragedy of anti-personnel landmines, but also to announce an historic step for the International Committee of the Red Cross: the launching of an international media campaign to stigmatise these barbarous weapons. Despite your sustained work and ours, the scourge of anti-personnel landmines continues unabated. In the hour we meet here, and in every hour which passes, three people will be killed or crippled for life by mines. Together we must find new ways to end this horrible scourge.

In February 1994 the ICRC came to the conclusion that the production, transfer and use of anti-personnel mines were out of control and called for their total prohibition. Since then we have been joined in this appeal by sixteen States, the U.N. Secretary General, the heads of numerous U.N. Agencies, the Council of Ministers of the Organisation of African Unity, the European Parliament and Pope John Paul II. Anti-personnel mines are increasingly being stigmatised as an abhorrent and unacceptable means of warfare.

Many had hoped that the recent Vienna Review Conference of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons would take dramatic steps to end the landmine crisis by placing stringent conditions on their production, transfer and use, or even prohibiting them entirely. Unfortunately, the humanitarian concerns which were at the forefront in the Conference's opening days were brushed aside under the pressure of national military and commercial interests. The Conference adjourned without results on landmines, to reconvene in Geneva next January and April.

By the time the Review Conference completes its work in April another five thousand people will have been killed by landmines and some eight thousand maimed for life. This mindless carnage is an affront to humanitarian values. It is an affront to civilisation. It can and must be ended. The ICRC appeals to you, in the media, to political leaders and to our humanitarian colleagues to ensure that these negotiations do not continue in an environment of " business as usual " .

The impasse of the Vienna Conference shows that there is little political will for dramatic change and that most military powers, North and South, still resist the elimination of anti-personnel landmines from their armouries. In such circumstances, the ICRC believes that a solution to the landmine crisis will have to rely on the dictate of public conscience. The deadlock of Vienna will itself increase pressure on governments to achieve results by the final session in April 1996.

This is why the ICRC is launching today, for the first time in its history, an international campaign in print, television and radio media for distribution worldwide. Its message is "Landmines must be stopped!" Its aim is to mobilise public opinion and political will for the stigmatisation of anti-personnel mines and for an increased commitment to the care and treatment of victims and to mine clearance. This campaign, which the ICRC begins today in the international media, will be taken up throughout 1996 by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in their national media.

The ICRC has taken this unprecedented step in recognition of the increasingly crucial role of the media and of public opinion in changing the course of modern history. Appeals to the norms of civilisation and humanity which at the beginning of this century were successfully made directly to statesmen must now find resonance across a broad spectrum of public opinion before governments find the will to rise above narrow national interests and act in the interest of humanity as a whole.

I take this opportunity to congratulate and extend my gratitude to Abbott Mead Vickers - BBDO, the agency that has developed the concept of the ICRC campaign They were also successful in realising with the support of Archbishop Desmond Tutu an appeal for free advertising time. To its representatives who have joined us today in Geneva, thank you.

Stopping landmines doesn't only depend on the success of international negotiations. States can take their own moral and political responsibility to end this scourge. The ICRC considers that the establishment of " landmine-free-zones " in various regions of the world may be a positive transitory solution. Such zones, which do not require lengthy global negotiations, would be areas where States, or groups of States, prohibit the production, import and use of anti-personnel mines and in which existing mines are cleared or destroyed. The establishment of such zones in post-conflict areas could strengthen a country's case for mine clearance assistance from the international community and be an important step in promoting the elimination of anti-personnel mines worldwide.

The international community is not impotent in the face of brutality and injustice and you in the media have played a decisive role in ensuring this. The media have helped form the public conscience in its victory over apartheid and against chemical weapons, in its response to famine in western Africa and Eritrea and in its insistence that torture be made illegal. The media were also part of the success of the Vienna Review Conference when, on 13 October, it outlawed blinding laser weapons - only the second time in history that a weapon has been prohibited in advance of its use on the battlefield.

And we are not im potent in the face of landmines. I invite you to join with us now in redoubling your efforts to inform the public about this scourge on the world's poor, its children and its hungry and to frame the ethical debate required for its final resolution. As with chemical weapons success may take years or, as with apartheid, it may require decades. But together we will succeed. And in struggling to do so we will not only be upholding fundamental norms of civilisation but also affirming our own common humanity. Thank you.

 Ref. Exp (22 nov.1995)