Press Releases

    GA/SPD/329
    28 October 2005

    Remaining Landmines Said to Be Obstacle in Many Countries to Humanitarian Aid, Refugee Return, Economic Progress

    Special Political Committee Completes Debate on Removal Action; Delegates Stress Continuing Problems after Long-Ago Conflicts

    NEW YORK, 27 October (UN Headquarters) -- The presence of landmines was an obstacle to economic development, humanitarian aid operations and refugee return, said the representative of Angola this morning as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) concluded its debate on assistance in mine action.

    There was a clear need to mobilize additional financial and technical resources, especially to those countries emerging from long conflicts, he said.  Although many mines had been cleared, challenges remained, and the Sixth Meeting of States parties to the relevant convention, to be held later in the year, should review the critical issues still faced by mine-affected countries.

    The representative of Peru, concurring, said that anti-personnel mines obstructed economic development and delayed reconstruction.  The existence of these devices also inhibited the repatriation of refugees and internationally displaced people, not only during conflicts but post-conflict, making it difficult to reconstruct international peace and stability.

    As Member States were now discussing the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission, said Thailand's representative, the importance of mine action, particularly mine clearance, at the initial stage of the peacebuilding process, should be emphasized.  Mine clearance was not only a confidence-building measure, but also an essential element for the long-term recovery and development of post-conflict States.

    On the issue of victim assistance, she said mine victims needed to be a part of the decision-making process and have access to opportunity and development.  They ought to be treated as assets, not as liabilities, she said.

    In similar vein, Norway's representative pointed out that in 2003, in 50 out of 60 mine-affected countries, new victims had not been given adequate survivor assistance.  Mine-affected countries were responsible for meeting the needs of their landmine victims, but other States parties had an obligation to assist in such efforts.  She noted that the vast majority of mine survivors were civilians, many of them children.

    Underlining the importance of international cooperation in mine action, the representative of Libya said countries which had planted mines in other territories should bear the primary responsibility; Libya had been impacted by the millions of mines planted by British, German and Italian forces during World War II, and those countries had not shouldered their responsibilities to remove the mines.

    Botswana's representative said the focus today should be on addressing those who were still engaged in the production, stockpiling, exporting and use of landmines.  They should be urged to stop using these arms.

    Pakistan's representative said that any attempt to impose treaty obligations on non-States parties in the name of assistance in mine clearance and mine action should not be allowed.  He said Pakistan had been unable to join the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Treaty because of legitimate security concerns.  It would be difficult to realize a universal ban on landmines unless and until viable alternatives were available.

    Also addressing the Committee this morning were the representatives of Japan, Colombia, Ethiopia, Croatia, Canada, and Ecuador.

    The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 28 October, to begin its debate on the effects of atomic radiation.

    Background

    The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to continue its general debate on assistance in mine action.  (For further information see Press Release GA/SPD/328 of 26 October.)

    Statements

    ISAMEL A. GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) said the presence of mines and explosive remnants of war caused death and injury around the world, and also caused serious social and economic drawbacks.  Mines prevented refugee return and constituted an obstacle to humanitarian aid operations and to economic development.  There was a clear need to mobilize additional financial and technical resources, especially to those countries emerging from long conflicts.  Although many mines had been cleared, challenges remained and the Sixth Meeting of States Parties to the relevant convention, to be held later in the year, should review the critical issues still faced by mine-affected countries.  Universality of the Ottawa Convention was a crucial factor in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

    He said Angola, one of the worst mine-affected countries in the world, had taken three major steps to address the problem.  It had ratified the Ottawa Convention.  The national mine-action institution was being constantly restructured, and substantial funds for mine action had been allocated out of the State budget.  During 27 years of civil war, more than 7 million landmines had been laid.  Most villages were not accessible due to mined roads and broken bridges, and as a consequence, local farmers were not able to transport their produce to markets.  Should mine action not be speeded up, it would have a negative impact on activities such as reconstruction and the return of displaced persons, as well as on the upcoming elections in 2006.

    Recognizing that landmines and other explosive remnants of war posed grave threats to lives and livelihood in humanitarian and development terms, a group of almost 30 countries had established the Forum of Mine-Affected Countries in 2004 in New York.  The group had pledged to work together to identify ways through which efforts to address the landmine crisis could be enhanced, while working with the United Nations, the donor community and civil society.  Effective coordination and increased national ownership was a fundamental factor for the success of mine-action activities.

    YASUSHI TAKASE (Japan) said that the First Review Conference of the Ottawa Convention, held in Kenya in 2004, had made clear that much progress had been made, but that there were still many challenges ahead.  At the Conference, Japan had announced its new policy on anti-personnel mines, which placed emphasis on the Middle East, Asia and Africa, and was based on three principles:  consolidation of peace; human security; and close cooperation between Governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and academia.  In this connection, he said, Japan had supported research and overseas filed tests though grant aid for scholarship and research.

    What was important for the future, he continued, was to apply Japan's technological expertise to the development of more effective equipment for the detection and clearance of mines, in cooperation with end-users, private companies and researchers.  It was also important to note the role of non-governmental organization and international organizations in assistance with mine action.  In this regard, the Government of Japan would carry out mine-action activities by increasing dialogue and coordination with non-governmental organization, as well as by supporting their activities through grants and subsidies.  For example, Japan had provided assistance to the project for supporting humanitarian mine action in Cambodia and a mine-clearance project in Sri Lanka through the grant aid for grass-roots human security projects.

    Japan took into account the need to integrate mine action into its developments programme, strategy and budget, he said.  Mine action was a multi-faceted issue involving human security and development and, therefore, required a comprehensive and flexible approach.  A mainstreaming approach would benefit both donors and mine-affected countries, and it would increase the opportunity to approach and consult with possible donors, including regional and international organizations.

    MONA JUUL (Norway) said the mine ban Convention had come about as a humanitarian response to a humanitarian crisis.  Six years after the Convention entered into force, substantial progress had been made under all articles, including the field of humanitarian mine action and victim assistance.  However, in 2003, in 50 out of 60 mine-affected countries, new victims had not been given adequate survivor assistance.  In some heavily mine-affected countries, only one victim out of a hundred got sufficient help.  Humanitarian mine action, including victim assistance, must therefore be made even more effective.

    She said mine-affected countries were responsible for meeting the needs of their landmine victims.  Other States parties had an obligation to assist in such efforts.  The vast majority of mine survivors were civilians, many of them children.  Victim assistance must include general health services and the physical, psychological, social and economic reintegration of people with disabilities.  It must also include assistance to victims' communities.  Active participation of mine victims in those efforts must be ensured. 

    Together with Nicaragua, Norway had chaired the Standing Committee on Victim Assistance during the past year, she said.  Workshops had been organized in some of the 24 most mine-affected countries in Africa and Central America, and a consultant had been hired to assist those countries in establishing national action plans for support to mine victims, among other things.  In 2002, Norway had initiated the establishment of the Resource Mobilisation Contact Group within the framework of the Convention in order to sustain the current funding level and secure new sources of funding for mine action.  Mine action must be kept as simple, straightforward and field-based as possible.  Ensuring that mine action was gender sensitive was also a priority.

    MARIA ANGELA HOLGUIN CEULLAR (Colombia) said that if the United Nations was to be consistent with its statement condemning all acts of terrorism that directly affected individuals, it must be ready to prohibit all production and commercialization of anti-personnel mines.  In conflict and post-conflict situations, the dismantling of mines was of fundamental importance.  Around the world, illegal armed groups and terrorists, with resources linked to transnational organized crime, had been the cause of this threat to innocent people.  Mines were perhaps one of the cruellest instruments of violence known to humanity, and children and innocent people were generally the victims.

    Colombia had destroyed 18,000 mines that were in its storage facilities, she said, but it was not enough to simply destroy stocks.  The Colombian military had equipment dedicated to the delicate mission of demining, but it was not sufficient; conscious of the need to increase Colombia's operative capacity, the office of the Vice-President of Colombia had presented a proposal for the creation of expert groups and subgroups in demining in order to move forward as soon as possible, to avoid further victims of anti-personnel mines.  On assistance to victims, she said Colombia was developing actions oriented towards reviewing each case for prompt attention.  In 1990, a national general registry had been established and in March 2005, a case-by-case registry.  Her Government was giving priority to boys, girls and youth.

    She thanked the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Centre for Demining in Geneva for the assistance they had provided her country.  The complexity of the problems produced by anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance required the involvement of all bodies of the State, Colombian civil society and, of course, international cooperation, she said.

    HAILE SELASSIE GETACHEW (Ethiopia) said mine action was an essential element of the humanitarian and development activities of the United Nations.  His country had acceded to the Ottawa Convention last year, in the hope that accession would create opportunities for enhanced bilateral cooperation.  With 2 million landmines and unexploded ordnance and 1.9 million people living in mine-infested areas, Ethiopia was among the worst-affected countries in the world.  According to a nationwide landmine impact survey of March 2004, mine and unexploded ordnance incidents had killed 588 people and injured 737 between 2002 and 2004 alone.  The survey had noted 15,321 victims before 2002.

    He said landmines created impediments to production activities, particularly in rural areas, and put tremendous financial pressure on the Government for mine-clearance activities.  The Government had undertaken various mine action.  The Ethiopian Mine Action Office had overseen the clearance of 17.9 square meters of land, the destruction of 18,330 landmines and unexploded ordnance and provided Mine Risk Education to more than 2 million people.  As a result, accidents had been reduced significantly.  The fact, however, that landmines and unexploded ordnance still remained scattered throughout many parts of the country was a clear indication of the need to boost mine-action activities.  It would be quite difficult for his country to tackle the problem without the generous and continuous support of the international community.

    RICARDO MOROTE (Peru) said it was imperative to end the suffering and death generated by anti-personnel mines.  Those devices mutilated and killed hundreds of people every day around the world, mostly innocent civilians, especially children and women.  Mines obstructed economic development and delayed reconstruction.  Their existence also inhibited the repatriation of refugees and internally displaced people, not only during conflicts, but post-conflict, making it difficult to forget and reconcile, and to reconstruct international peace and stability.

    He emphasized the joint efforts of Peru and Ecuador in humanitarian mine clearance as a confidence-building measure, a means to fight poverty and to promote national development.  Peru and Ecuador were coordinating concrete actions for joint humanitarian mine clearance in the Coordillera del Condor and some of the remaining western frontier regions.  In this connection, Peru and Ecuador would continue their joint efforts, and he cited:  executing of collective examinations; interchange of technical experiences, equipment, material and information on possible dangerous areas; plans to remove combined mines; sharing of medical evacuation plans; and promotion of a campaign on collective prevention.  He said the experiences of Peru and Ecuador confirmed that collective work strengthened peace relations and provided a shared vision of problems and solutions.

    MIRJANA MLADINEO (Croatia) said that her country's period of independence virtually coincided with the length of time it had been affected by mine-related problems.  Croatia had learned to tackle these problems, including their humanitarian, social and economic effects.  Notwithstanding the substantial aid that Croatia had initially received from the international community to tackle mine-related problems, much work had been done through a painful process of learning from experience. 

    She said great importance had been given to the education and training of all the actors involved, from mine experts themselves to ordinary people who lived in the mine-affected areas.  Croatia was also fully aware of the necessity of sharing knowledge and experience.  Hence intensive international cooperation had been exercised in every element of mine actions.  Croatia also contributed to the international community's attempts to address mine-related problems.  The establishment of the Council for Co-ordination of Mine Action Activities had already developed a fruitful exchange of knowledge and experience within the region of south east Europe.  Such regional cooperation was a milestone on the road to a mine-free world, and Croatia stood ready to share its experience with any mine-affected country or region.

    ASIM IFTIKHAR AHMAD (Pakistan) said discussions on the item should be focused on humanitarian demining and on victim assistance, as well as raising awareness and national capacity-building of mine-affected States.  The development and implementation of policies, strategies and activities of the United Nations related to mine action must be approved and reviewed by the Member States.  Any attempt to impose treaty obligations on non-States parties in the name of assistance in mine clearance should not be allowed.

    He said his country had been unable to join the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Treaty due to its legitimate security concerns.  It would be difficult to realize a universal ban on landmines unless and until viable alternatives were available.  His country was favourably inclined towards negotiating an international legal instrument against the transfer of anti-personnel mines at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.  As party to the amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Pakistan produced only detectable anti-personnel mines.  It had also declared a unilateral moratorium on the export of landmines.

    Elaborating on Pakistan's contribution to mine action in Kuwait, Angola and Afghanistan, he said several conclusions could be drawn from that experience.  Mines laid by professional armed forces, if duly marked, fenced and monitored, remained 100 per cent detectable to the user and posed minimal humanitarian risk.  Technologically-advanced mine detectors ensured effective demining, even of non-detectable mines.  Demining of areas affected by civil wars involving warring factions proved to be difficult.  But Pakistan's experience had borne out that while it was time-consuming, labour intensive and dangerous, an integrated approach like the one practised in Angola and Kuwait could overcome the difficulties and achieve the desired objectives.

    ANDREA MEYER (Canada) said that landmines posed a direct threat to life and limb, inhibited the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance and presented a major obstacle to sustainable development.  Despite progress over the years, landmines and unexploded ordnance continued to indiscriminately kill or injure 15 to 20 thousand people annually.  The Ottawa Convention remained for Canada, and the other 147 States parties, the definitive international instrument within which to address all elements of mine action.  Clearly, however, the States parties were not the only ones who cared about this problem, and Canada acknowledged the mine-action activities of many of the States not yet party to the Convention.

    Although the United Nations had not yet adopted a formal definition of mine action, she said, it was widely understood to include five main elements:  humanitarian demining; mine-risk education; stockpile destruction; victim assistance, and advocacy.  To save lives in the short term, it was often necessary to survey and mark the location of landmines and to undertake mine-risk education to sensitize people to the dangers.  There was also the ongoing need to meet the needs of landmine survivors.  For these and other reasons, it was essential, from Canada's perspective, always to refer to "mine action", which included, but was not limited to, mine clearance.

    Canada had contributed in excess of $200 million to mine action since the Ottawa Convention entered into force in 1999, she said.  Increasingly, however, the Canadian international development agency was contributing funds for mine action from Canada's official development assistance envelope, as an effective means to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  In this regard, Canada strongly encouraged the mine-affected States to build mine action into their national development plans and into all relevant sector strategies; to invest available resources into mine action; and, where the degree of landmine activity warranted, to bring mine action forward as a development priority in negotiations with the international development community.

    AHMED GEBREEL (Libya) said his country had not only suffered from the consequences of the Italian colonization, but had also been impacted by the millions of mines planted by British, German and Italian forces during World War II.  After the end of that war, the aforementioned countries had not shouldered their responsibilities to remove the mines.  The mines and explosive remnants of war had led to the death and injury of thousands, and had prevented the rehabilitation of vast tracks of land.

    He said, regarding international cooperation in extending aid to mine action, that the countries, which had planted mines in other countries, had the primary responsibility.  Those countries should provide maps and experts for mine clearance.  They must also be responsible for the rehabilitation of those who had been injured.  There was an urgent need to reconsider whether the Fifth Protocol to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons should be amended, in a manner that dealt with the impact of the explosive remnants of war planted during the first half of the twentieth century.  He hoped that during the session, an agreement would be reached on the draft resolution on assistance in mine action.

    GERMAN ORTEGA (Ecuador) said his country wished to see a world free from all mines, and recognized that anti-mine action was not just a question of disarmament but also one of development.  In this context, it was desirable that the international community support related development projects.  His country was a positive example for the international community in the field of mine action, he said.  Ecuador and Peru were the only countries in his region that had successfully carried out joint mine action after armed conflict.  They were carrying out joint activities, such as exchanges of information, which had upbuilt security and trust among their neighbouring populations.

    It was necessary for the international to continue providing financial support, he said.  Furthermore, his delegation hoped that in discussions next year more specific reference would be made to efforts being made by individual Member States in post-conflict situations and the need to support them financially.  Ecuador had destroyed all stocks of anti-personnel mines and hoped that other countries would do the same.

    LESEDI N. THEMA (Botswana), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said his region was scattered with tragic human interest stories regarding landmines, which had maimed and taken many innocent lives, even before the scourge had attracted the interest of the international community.  The dastardly nature of these mines had increasingly led to the recognition that landmine deployment, even more military use, was an inhumane method of engaging in warfare.  As an indication of commitment to this issue, all 14 member States of the SADC had acceded to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty.

    Countries in the SADC region, he continued, had suffered significantly from the deployment of landmines, anti-tank mines and unexploded ordnance within their national territories and along their borders.  This was due to civil wars, and to anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles that had plagued the region for many decades.  The prevalence of landmines within the affected countries had stunted potential economic growth, he said, and the SADC therefore attached great importance to this agenda item.  In its annual report of the year 2003-2004, the SADC had recognized the devastating effects that land mines, together with small arms and light weapons, had on the region, and an appeal had been made to the international community to pool its resources to fight this scourge.  To this end, the SADC member States expressed their gratitude to all those who had assisted their endeavours.

    It was sad to note that the tragedy of anti-personnel mines continued unabated, despite the efforts of the international community.  Although there was a large number of countries that were devoting resources to mine action, there was still a great deal to be done.  Diplomatic endeavours must therefore be continued, to convince more and more countries to join the fight.  The SADC countries believed that the focus today should be on addressing the responsibility of those who were still engaged in the production, stockpiling, exporting and use of landmines, and urging them to stop using these arms.

    PRAVIT CHAIMONGKOL (Thailand) said that as Member States were now discussing the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission, her country wanted to emphasize the importance of mine action, particularly mine clearance, at the initial stage of the peacebuilding process.  Mine clearance was not only a confidence-building measure, but also an essential element for long-term recovery and development of post-conflict States.  With half-a-million of Thailand's population living with the risk of anti-personnel mines, and with 2,560 square kilometres of under-utilized land, mine action was an absolute necessity for her country.  In 2003, she said, 337,724 anti-personnel mines had been destroyed.  Her Government had continuously supported activities to raise awareness of the danger and impacts of landmines.  It had also organized a regional workshop on Development Challenges of Mine Clearance and Victim Assistance in Southeast Asia in August 2004.

    As for victim assistance, she said, mine victims needed to be a part of the decision-making process and have access to opportunity and development.  They ought to be treated as assets, not as liabilities.  Thailand's Mine Action Center, with strong support of the Japan Alliance for Humanitarian Demining, had tried to eliminate anti-personnel mines in the country, and to reclaim the livelihood of citizens and safeguard the environment.  Support had also been rendered by China in mine clearance.  Thailand was still in the process of integrating mine action into its national development plans.  She urged donor countries to continue their contribution to international humanitarian demining efforts.

    * *** *