Landmines still kill 20,000 yearly, despite moves toward elimination – UN official

Jean-Marie Guéhenno

3 April 2007 – Although efforts to curtail landmines have been successful, much remains to be done as the devices still kill nearly 20,000 people every year, the top United Nations peacekeeping official said today on the eve of the second-ever International Day dedicated to curbing the scourge.

In the 10 years since the conclusion of the anti-personnel mine-ban treaty, known as the Ottawa Convention, “much obviously has been achieved in terms of eradicating devices which are in the ground and stigmatizing any new use of such weapons, in eliminating stockpiled devices, in assisting victims,” Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno told reporters in New York.

Casualty rates have been slashed by 50 per cent, “which has enabled millions of people in mine-affected countries to resume their normal lives by making land safe for farming and by allowing children to walk safely to school by opening roads to transportation and commerce,” he added.

However, between 15,000 and 20,000 people are killed annually by landmines years, or even decades, after the end of a conflict in such places as Western Sahara and Cyprus.

“So long as there are mines, they are a danger to the local population. They are a great impediment to the resumption of local life,” he said, calling for stronger international agreements which address the humanitarian impact of such deadly weapons.

Mr. Guéhenno also pointed out the lethality of explosive remnants of war, which include different types of ammunition, unexploded rockets and mortars. Also included in this category are the especially dangerous cluster bombs, which scatter hundreds of smaller bombs, or submunitions, intended to detonate on impact, but of which a significant portion do not.

He cited Kosovo, Iraq, Viet Nam and Lebanon as areas in which mines pose significant problems. In Lebanon, he said, the UN has helped to clean up 100,000 submunitions from cluster bombs, but a million still remain, and there have been casualties among both UN peacekeepers and the Lebanese.

The vast majority of victims of these weapons are civilians, and in Afghanistan, most victims are below the age of 18.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also emphasized the civilian component of the issue.

“Civilian populations are often the first, and always the last, casualties of war,” said Judy Cheng-Hopkins, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner. Mines and other devices “ensure that the suffering [of civilians] continues well past the signing of peace treaties or accords, past the withdrawal of armed forces and past the ‘normalization’ of relations between warring countries are groups,” she said.

UN agencies operating in Sudan also reiterated their commitment to the mine-clearing process, education and assistance to those affected by landmines.

Not only do these devices kill and injure people in Sudan every year, but they also hinder the delivery of humanitarian aid, impede refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from returning safely home and thwart the implementation of humanitarian and development programmes, according to the UN Mine Action Office in Sudan (UNMAO).

UNMAO also said that mines are preventing the “smooth implementation” of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended 21 years of separate civil conflict between north and south Sudan.

Currently, 14 UN agencies, programmes, departments and funds are active in mine action services – including finding and destroying landmines and explosive remnants of war; assisting victims; teaching people methods to remain safe in mine-affected areas; and destroying mine stockpiles; and encouraging universal participation in international agreements such as the Ottawa Convention – in dozens of countries.

To commemorate the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action tomorrow, numerous events will be held throughout the world. Exhibitions will be held in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Eritrea and Switzerland, while a festival in which children will participate will be held in Chechnya.

At UN Headquarters, a mock minefield will be installed to show how the de-mining process works, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will conduct mine-risk education workshops to the public.

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