Land Mines, 5 years experience with the Ottawa Convention

Published: 2 December 2004

Thank you for inviting me to this landmark event - an event close to my heart.

This week, Nairobi is the centre for dealing with a truly global pestilence. The worldwide network of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are at the heart of action to address the effects of this pestilence worldwide. And I have the honour of representing their International Federation at this Conference.

I have a personal affinity with the Mine Ban Treaty. For one thing, I was born in Ottawa - like the treaty itself. But more than that, as Chair of the Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, I had the honour to be close to the birth of the treaty. And as Vice-Chair of the Netherlands Red Cross, I follow developments in the field.

The ICRC has made a crucial contribution to the campaign to ban anti-personnel mines. It started out in 1995 with the ambitious goal of a total ban on these weapons. The ICRC's President at the time, Cornelio Sommaruga, was passionately committed to this cause. Inspired by his example, the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies took a unanimous stand on the ban at a time when many of their governments were not yet prepared to do so.

Dealing with the problem of landmines means reducing complex security issues to human proportions. It affects us at every level of our existence - from the nation to the community to our very homes. It even impinges on our personal integrity.

My work for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has shown me time and again how national security and personal safety may interlink. We must realise that creating a safe environment depends on human endeavour and human strength.

Here, in this unique cooperation between governments and civil society, the Mine Ban Treaty is being evaluated in depth for the first time. The past years have yielded a great deal to be proud of. But we must keep the momentum. There is still so much to be done. I, for one, fervently hope that countries not yet party to the Convention will take note of the accomplishments and reconsider their position.

Let me offer, from my personal perspective, three dimensions, which I feel, are also important in dealing with the question of landmines. They are the health care element, the environmental impact, and a focus on gender.

First, it is clear that the effects of landmines pose a formidable challenge to health care. Directly after impact, we are reminded of that every day. But also later. A nine-year-old girl who has lost a leg will probably need more than thirty-five prostheses in the course of her lifetime. Mines do such terrible damage to children, out playing just as children do. The cost in human suffering is beyond words and continues years after the conflict is over.

Landmines not only maim and kill individuals. They also hamper the access of medical aid and prevent supplies from reaching communities and entire regions.

And a very different and sad health care challenge is HIV/AIDS. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS affects clearance teams and mine affected communities alike. Mine clearance teams often live in close proximity to the communities they serve for weeks if not months.

This provides a unique opportunity to integrate HIV/AIDS preventive programmes with mine risk education. In the coming period, the International Federation will give more attention to this aspect. Access to health care for victims and vulnerable populations is one of the highest priorities for National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and it is of central concern to the International Federation.

Second, as to the environment: We are increasingly aware of the extent of pollution caused by the leaking of explosives used in landmines. Harmful substances used in landmines are often water-soluble, can cause cancer, are toxic and long-lasting.

Exploding landmines can also cause erosion, causing considerable production loss. Landmines prevent people from working their land. Landmines are a direct cause of poverty. Their removal is essential to the sustainable development objectives, which are so central to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Finally, a few words on gender. Women and girls need to be approached in a different manner from men and boys when it comes to mine awareness action. In relation to mine rehabilitation we must realise, for instance that disabled women face abandonment and are more likely to be unemployed. A gendered approach may, apart from helping to assess different needs, also simply improve effectiveness. For instance, in Afghanistan, teams of women informing other women about the risk of mines are more effective than mixed of male teams would be.

Before concluding allow me to honour here the many senior military officers who have said that anti-personnel mines have very little military utility and that their human cost is unacceptable.

The common denominator in all I have said is the importance of human safety...

Mines damage communities in every sense.

Mines deprive populations of their agricultural land. They deprive people's ability to maintain their existence.

Landmines are a plague on every continent. They destroy the lives of people walking to school, people working the land, people collecting firewood, and people safeguarding the peace. They are especially cruel because they undermine human dignity.

Every human being should be able to trust the ground under their feet.

In the words of the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran: "Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet."

Mines must be banned, without delay!

We can do it, together!