Anti-personnel mines continue to pose an ever constant threat
Opening address by Christine Beerli, vice-president of the ICRC, 13th meeting of States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines, Geneva, 2-5 December 2013.
A few weeks ago, the ICRC met with Salih Hasanamidzic, a 56-year-old man living in the remote village of Doboj Istok in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina. Salih survived an anti-personnel mine blast in 2011 while collecting fruit in the forest surrounding the village but he was badly injured and left permanently disabled. His wife was killed in the same incident. One of Salih’s brothers lost a leg in a similar incident in 1997, while collecting firewood. Another brother was killed in 2006, also by an anti-personnel mine in similar circumstances. Before the war, Salih’s family used to herd goats outside the village but they can no longer do so due to the presence of landmines. As a consequence, their economic situation has drastically deteriorated.
Salih’s situation is particularly devastating, but he and his family are not the only mine victims in Doboj Istok. The entire community is affected, as the surrounding forest on which they rely for firewood is still littered with anti-personnel mines.
The armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended 18 years ago; yet as in many other countries, anti-personnel mines continue to destroy peoples' lives and pose an ever constant threat. Many mine-affected States, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, have made progress towards meeting their mine clearance and victim assistance commitments under the Convention, and many in this room have supported them in these tasks. But progress continues to be hampered, including by insufficient resources. In some cases, resources have even decreased over the years. Sustained mobilization and effective use of resources – human, financial and technical – remain critical if land essential for the economic survival of communities is to finally be cleared of anti-personnel mines, and if the Convention is to fulfil its promises to mine victims.
Cases like Salih’s demonstrate why any use of these weapons is unacceptable. The ICRC is alarmed by allegations of the use of anti-personnel mines by a limited number of States Parties, some of which remain unanswered. The ICRC calls on the States Parties concerned to immediately conduct thorough investigations – as some have already committed to doing – and to share their findings with all States Parties. If the allegations prove to be well founded, the States concerned must take the necessary measures under their national laws, in accordance with Article 9 of the Convention. States Parties may also need to consider invoking the procedures for facilitating and clarifying compliance under Article 8 of the Convention.
Clearance of anti-personnel mines is one of the cornerstones of the Convention. It requires political will, efficient planning and management and, of course, financial resources. Since the Convention’s entry into force, nearly 15 years ago, 25 out of 59 mine-affected States Parties have declared completion of their mine clearance obligations. These achievements deserve to be celebrated. However, the ICRC remains disturbed by the number of States that seem not to have given sufficient attention to planning or surveying work within their initial ten-year time frame and have subsequently required extensions of their clearance deadlines. We call on mine-affected States, and on those in a position to support them, to increase their efforts and bolster their partnerships to ensure rapid and effective surveying and clearance work. This is crucial not only to free up land for affected communities such as those in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also to ensure that there will be no new mine victims.
We call on mine-affected States, and on those in a position to support them, to increase their efforts and bolster their partnerships to ensure rapid and effective surveying and clearance work."
We know from ICRC field operations that a lot still needs to be done to assist the victims of anti-personnel mines and other weapons. Despite all of the discussion and work that has been done in the last 15 years, many States have made insufficient progress on victim assistance. The role of donors is vital but the States affected must also intensify their commitment to improving the situation of survivors, families and affected communities; and they must take concrete steps in this direction. Much can be achieved through increased national ownership and political will to improve the physical, social, economic and professional environments of the people at the heart of this Convention.
As we look towards the Third Review Conference in 2014, we urge all States Parties to show renewed energy and leadership in tackling the challenges that lie ahead. We can take heart from the Convention’s impressive achievements, in particular the quantity of land cleared and released to communities, the number of stockpiled mines destroyed and the significant decrease in casualty rates over the last 15 years. But the continued engagement and vigilance of all States Parties and stakeholders are still required to put an end to the suffering caused by anti-personnel mines.
For the inhabitants of Doboj Istok, and for thousands of others in affected communities around the world, anti-personnel mines are not yet a distant memory; they are a weapon that continues to affect peoples’ lives and livelihoods on a daily basis. The power to change this is in your hands.