MINE BAN CONVENTION BOASTS LARGE SWATHES OF ‘MINE-FREE’ LAND, 40 MILLION MINES DESTROYED, NEAR HALT TO PRODUCTION, SALE, TRANSFER, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD
MINE BAN CONVENTION BOASTS LARGE SWATHES OF ‘MINE-FREE’ LAND, 40 MILLION MINES DESTROYED, NEAR HALT TO PRODUCTION, SALE, TRANSFER, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-second General Assembly
17th Meeting (PM)
MINE BAN CONVENTION BOASTS LARGE SWATHES OF ‘MINE-FREE’ LAND, 40 MILLION MINES
DeSTROYED, NEAR HALT TO PRODUCTION, SALE, TRANSFER, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD
Explosive Remnants of War Still Contaminate Territories Worldwide; Speakers
Seek Assistance for Victims, Mine Clearance, End to Proliferation of ‘Killer Toys’
On the tenth anniversary of the Mine Ban Convention, unprecedented amounts of land that were mined or suspected of being hazardous had been deemed “mine-free”, nearly 40 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines had been destroyed and their production, sale and transfer had almost stopped, David Harland, Acting Director of the Europe and Latin America Division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon as it began considering assistance in mine action.
Speaking on behalf of Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and Chairman of the United Nations Inter-Agency Coordination Group of Mine Action, Mr. Harland said that 2007 had been a remarkable year for mine action, as the number of States that had ratified or acceded to the Mine Ban Convention since 1997 had reached 155. Improved tools and methods had contributed to a decline in casualties. Meanwhile, States that had not yet joined the Treaty had nevertheless largely respected its basic principles.
(The Mine Ban Convention, also known as the Ottawa Convention, is, formally, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.)
In the ensuing general debate, Ecuador’s delegate stressed that the progress in clearing land and destroying mines had been the result of a proper focus on shared responsibility and a sustained inter-institutional effort in the United Nations system. The Mine Ban Convention of 1997 was a testament of what the international community could achieve, although for the Convention’s goals to be fully successful, more coordinated efforts were required.
The representative of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic said that, while tremendous efforts had been undertaken to remove mines and unexploded ordnance, much remained to be done, especially in assisting victims. More than 80 countries were still contaminated by explosive remnants of war. Hundreds of new victims were being claimed everyday and thousands of survivors longed for a helping hand.
As the most heavily bombed country per capita the world had ever known, his country still suffered from the lasting impact of unexploded ordnance, he said. Today, 15 out of its 17 provinces remained contaminated. Clearing unexploded ordnance was not enough. In alleviating humanitarian consequences caused by those inhumane and indiscriminate weapons, priority should be given to assisting victims in affected areas and preventing the proliferation of those weapons. If it worked together, the international community could put an end to the source of the “killer toys”, the effects of which continued to constrain his country’s capacity to meet its international commitments, including the Millennium Development Goals.
Uruguay’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), noted that, unlike most weapons, anti-personnel mines were set off by the victims. Once planted, they did not distinguish between combatants and civilians and, while buried, they could remain active for a very long time and could cause critical injuries. Their use resulted in severe socio-economic impacts, and seriously limited the ability of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation.
Underscoring the possible lasting effects of mines and explosive remnants of war, the representative of Viet Nam said her country’s citizens were still threatened by those weapons and, despite assistance from 35 international and non-governmental organizations, the Government had 350,000 to 800,000 metric tonnes of unexploded ordnance to clear.
Also speaking were the representatives of Japan, Iraq, Cuba, Thailand, China, Portugal (on behalf of the European Union), Egypt, Nepal and Sudan.
The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 November, to conclude its general debate on assistance in mine action and to begin its consideration of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) had before it the Secretary-General’s report on Assistance in mine action (document A/62/307), which says that 155 countries had ratified or acceded to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction -- commonly known as the Mine Ban Convention. Since that time, about 40 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines have been destroyed, and their production, sale and transfer has almost stopped. An unprecedented amount of mined and suspected hazardous areas have been deemed mine-free. Improved risk reduction tools and methods are said to have contributed to a global decline in casualties.
Still, the report says, anti-vehicle mines pose a significant challenge in many parts of Africa, and more than 80 countries remain contaminated by explosive remnants. The United Nations Mine Action Team, consisting of 14 departments, agencies, funds and programmes, is at the forefront of efforts to ensure a coherent response to mine action. Its activities are coordinated by the Inter-Agency Coordination Group on Mine Action, chaired by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations at the principals’ level, and the Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service chairs the Group at the working level. It is governed by a 2005 inter-agency policy and guided by the United Nations Inter-Agency Mine Action Strategy: 2006-2010.
Also according to the report, the aims of the United Nations Mine Action Team are: to reduce death and injury from mines by at least 50 per cent; to mitigate the risk to community livelihoods and expand freedom of movement for at least 80 per cent of the most seriously affected communities; to integrate mine-action needs into national development and reconstruction plans and budgets; and to assist the development of national institutions to manage the threat posed by landmines/explosive remnants of war, and at the same time prepare for “residual capacity” to cope with those remnants.
The report also touches on the legal framework for mine action, saying the United Nations has continuously advocated the universalization of the Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons). That Protocol is entitled Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby Traps and Other Devices. Discussions on a new protocol on anti-vehicle mines did not produce results in 2006, bringing disappointment.
On a positive note, Protocol V -- on explosive remnants of war by all parties to armed conflicts -- entered into force on 12 November 2006, with 32 States “expressing their consent to be bound by it”, the report notes, adding that key decisions on the its operationalization will be made at the first conference of High Contracting Parties in November. A conference to review the implementation of the Mine Ban Convention is slated to take place in 2009, where the first 21 mine-affected States parties will face the 10-year mine clearance deadline imposed by the Treaty.
The report also says that, in March 2005, the United Nations Mine Action Service, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) submitted proposed definitions of “cluster munitions” and “sub-munitions” to the Group of Governmental Experts of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which has been used by Member States in the development of national legislation. The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons agreed to discuss the matter at their meeting of States parties, also in November.
In addition, two new legal instruments of significance for the survivors of mines and explosive remnants of war were opened for signature, the report says. They are: the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol. This Convention provides an elaborate legal and monitoring framework for the achievement of the victim assistance obligations contained in the Mine Ban Convention. A newly-established Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will track the extent to which the rights of survivors of mines and explosive remnants of war are respected, with help from national monitoring mechanisms established by that Convention.
DAVID HARLAND, speaking on behalf of Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and Chairman of the United Nations Inter-Agency Coordination Group on Mine Action, said that 2007 had been a remarkable year for mine action. The number of States that had ratified or acceded to the Mine Ban Convention since 1997 had reached 155. Also, some 40 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines had been destroyed, and their production, sale and transfer had almost stopped. An unprecedented amount of mined areas and those that were suspected of being hazardous had been deemed “mine-free”, and improved tools and methods had contributed to a decline in casualties. Those States that had not yet joined the Treaty had nevertheless largely respected its basic principles.
He noted that it was also the tenth anniversary of the creation of the United Nations Mine Action Service and its designation by the General Assembly as the focal point for mine action within the United Nations system. The Mine Action Service was responsible for coordinating all mine-related activities of the United Nations Mine Action Team, which consisted of 14 departments, agencies, funds and programmes. On the anniversary, the United Nations could confidently celebrate: declining casualty levels from mines and explosive remnants of war; vast areas of previously suspected land that were now deemed safe and were being productively used by communities in affected countries; increased levels of national capacity to manage complex mine-action programmes; direct linkage of mine action with broader development and reconstruction planning in an increasing number of nationals strategies; explicit recognition in some mine-action work plans of the importance of gender equality and the rights of persons with disabilities across the mine-action sector; and a well-coordinated approach among the United Nations system partners engaged in mine action.
Yet challenges remained, he said. The legal framework underpinning mine action could be further strengthened to improve protection of civilians. The Secretary-General urged all Member States to move towards ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Mine Ban Convention and Protocol V and Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. The Secretary-General also urged Member States to conclude, by the end of 2008, a comprehensive and effective legally binding instrument that addressed the impact of those weapons.
The Secretary-General sought support to develop the United Nations capacity for rapid mine-action response, including increasing the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers in emergency situations, he said. The Secretary-General also called on affected States, donors and mine-action practitioners to increase the planning and implementation of mine action within national frameworks of broader development and reconstruction. He also requested that the impact of mine-action activities in beneficiary communities be assessed, in order to secure the most equitable and effective use of released land. Finally, he urged the mine-action community to ensure that mine-clearance personnel had access to the best equipment.
In the area of reducing death and injury by at least 50 per cent, he said that mine education was increasingly targeting the most at-risk populations. Globally, the number of countries and territories reporting casualties, and the level of casualties, had declined substantially since 2003.
In the area of mitigating risk to community livelihoods and expanding freedom of movement for at least 80 per cent of the most seriously affected communities, more effort by the United Nations agencies was being put into investigating those areas exhibiting evidence of contamination, and clearing only those areas. That had resulted in the release of extensive areas of formerly suspected land and the concentration of clearance efforts where they were truly needed.
The goal was to integrate mine-action needs into national development reconstruction plans and budgets of at least 15 countries, and the United Nations agencies had so far been successful in assisting 13 countries, he said. In assisting national institutions manage landmines or explosive remnants of war in at least 15 countries, the United Nations agencies had, in accordance with their mandates and policy guidelines, helped many countries to gradually assume full responsibility for their problems posed by landmines and explosive remnants of war. A number of programmes would be transferred to full national management and execution within the next few years. Direct technical support was no longer required in a number of mine-affected countries, such as Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Yemen. Others, such as Mauritania and Senegal, were also well on their way to developing national programmes.
He said that the resolution under debate demonstrated the commitment and support of the Member States for United Nations assistance in the area of mine action. It also acknowledged the primary responsibility of States to address the problem and to ensure respect for the rights of the affected individuals and communities. The resolution strengthened the commitment to mainstream mine action into development planning and to promote expediency and efficiency in mine-clearance activities, including through the use of area reduction. The United Nations Mine Action Team was determined to assist in the creation of a world free of the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war, he added.
Following Mr. HARLAND’s presentation, ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD ( Sudan) opened the floor to those Members wishing to pose questions.
Questions and Answers
Portugal’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked what the United Nations could do to enhance its rapid response capability. Also, according to the Secretary-General, children made up 30 per cent of the number of casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war. He asked to hear more about concrete measures being taken to lower that figure.
The Committee Chairman asked about the legal framework that governed mine action within the United Nations, and whether it was necessary to have a mine action programme.
Mr. HARLAND said the mine action legal framework was “scattered”, with United Nations mine action work receiving its mandate from, for example, various Security Council resolutions dealing with post-conflict situations. References to mine action also appeared in legal mandates given to various actors across the United Nations system. The principle problem was not whether there was a legal mandate, but how to pull the different mandates together to ensure coherence. Nevertheless, despite the fairly loose institutional architecture, he was reasonably satisfied with the results achieved so far.
In response to the question from Portugal’s delegate, he said that the United Nations had good rapid response capability, especially when resources were received in a timely manner. In Guinea-Bissau, for instance, United Nations mine action brought together resources from the United Nations Mine Action Service, the UNDP and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Central Emergency Response Fund. In south Lebanon, United Nations mine action had quickly received voluntary contributions, which allowed it to send contractors to the field in just under two weeks.
He said that mine action exercises were held annually in Sweden, bringing together the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and Member States in a simulation of a complex emergency situation. With each exercise, mine action capabilities were enhanced.
Regarding activities to reduce casualties among children, he said much of the work being done was focused on educating victims on the dangers of landmines. Such education was context-specific and respected the needs of different communities. To monitor and evaluate risk reduction activities, the United Nations collected gender- and age-disaggregated data. In addition, UNICEF country offices worked with the education ministries in more than 20 countries.
JIRO KODERA ( Japan) said that since his country announced its new policy on mine action at the First Review Conference of the Mine Ban Convention in 2004, it had been actively engaged in providing assistance to post-conflict countries. It had also promoted exchanges of views with users and experts in recipient countries, so that newly developed equipment addressed the specific needs of victims of anti-personnel mines. Japan had contributed an average of $3.8 million a year since 2004, with the largest contribution -- $4 million -- made in 2006.
He gave examples of the assistance Japan had funded, including $550,000 to train Iraqi officials of the National Mine Action Authority, and $1.75 million to mine-risk education and victim assistance in the Sudan. To increase safety and efficiency of mine-clearance activities, Japan had also conducted evaluations of new mine detection and mine clearance equipment to be used in Afghanistan, Croatia and Cambodia. Such projects were done in cooperation with other Governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and academia. He pledged continuing support for efforts to achieve the objectives of the “Zero Victims Programme” through contributions to international human security organizations.
SHILAN AL-HAIDERI ( Iraq), noting the importance the General Assembly attached to mine action, said the United Nations had played a crucial role in helping nations adhere to the Mine Ban Convention. She also stressed that children and the elderly comprised the majority of landmine casualties. Iraq had created a national body in 2003 to deal with the issue of mines. Iraq had suffered from the problem because a great deal of land had been occupied by ordnance over many wars. Her delegation supported the resolution and work being done to reduce the number of mine-related casualties worldwide.
FEDERICO PERAZZA ( Uruguay), on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), noted that, unlike most weapons, anti-personnel mines were set off by the victims. Once planted, their effects were indiscriminate, meaning that they did not distinguish between combatants and civilians. While buried, they could remain active for a very long time and could cause critical injuries. Their use also caused severe socio-economic impacts, and seriously limited the ability of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation. Mine clearance was a long, dangerous and expensive process.
He said that countries within the bloc were aware of the obstacles of mine clearance, such as climatic factors and lack of human and financial resources. Article five of the Mine Ban Convention -- on the destruction of anti-personnel mines in mined areas –- afforded States parties the possibility to apply for an extension of their compliance deadline. However, requests for extensions should not be used as a way to “deviate” from implementation of article five. Chile, in its capacity as co-chair of the Committee for De-mining of the Ottawa Convention, had organized, with Norway, a seminar in Santiago in August on the article’s implementation.
He welcomed the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The early entry into force of that instrument would contribute significantly to improving the quality of life for victims.
REBECA HERNÁNDEZ TOLEDANO ( Cuba) said that her country shared the legitimate humanitarian concerns related to the indiscriminate and irresponsible use of mines. In that regard, Cuba fully endorsed the international efforts to address the serious damage those weapons caused civilian populations in communities affected by conflict. Yet, Cuba remained concerned at the lack of efficiency in mine-clearance efforts in post-conflict situations.
She said her country had carried out a strict policy with regard to guaranteeing the responsible use of anti-personnel mines with an exclusively defensive character and for its national security. It had also not exported mines. As a State party to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, including to Protocol II, Cuba had strictly complied with the prohibitions and restrictions. It had also accepted the amendment to article I of the Convention and pledged to observe and apply its provisions. Still, Cuba had been subjected for more than 47 years to a policy of continued hostility and aggression by the military super-Power. Thus, possession and use of mines were part of the country’s defence plan; preserving its sovereignty and territorial integrity, in accordance with the right to self-defence enshrined in the United Nations Charter, made it impossible for Cuba to give up the right to those weapons.
At the same time, Cuba had contributed to humanitarian efforts to prevent or alleviate the effects of the indiscriminate use of mines, she said. More attention should be given to international cooperation, not only for mine-clearance activities, but for assisting the victims. Her delegation had worked actively in the consultation and negotiation process, which had led to the draft resolution, and reaching agreement had not been easy. Certain delegations had insisted on proposed language that completely distorted the resolution’s objective and purpose. Cuba reiterated that the resolution aimed to adequately address the humanitarian dimension of questions related to the use of mines, without detriment to the State’s legitimate interests in matters of disarmament and national security. Stressing that the balance between the humanitarian dimension and the disarmament and national security dimension had so far allowed consensus on that text, she said that a breach of that balance would regrettably lead to a breakdown in consensus. Cuba hoped that, in the future, the resolution would continue to focus on the humanitarian dimension of the landmines problem.
JAK SANGCHAI ( Thailand) noted that approximately 100 countries were affected by mines around the world, most of which were developing countries. As mine clearance demanded a high level of technical expertise and continued financial resources, only a small number of countries could implement necessary intricate and time-consuming mine-action steps on their own. It was essential that the international community further intensify assistance to those States. Thailand, a mine-affected country, had a national committee on humanitarian mine action, chaired by the Prime Minister, which was mandated to coordinate mine clearance activities, conduct mine risk education, provide victim assistance and assess mine action results.
Furthermore, he said, the Thailand Mine Action Centre, set up in 1999, stimulated the involvement of civil society in the national mine-action process. The Centre also coordinated joint efforts with partner countries, such as Japan, the United States and China. The Government had recently approved a new financial package to support mine-action activities. A substantial increase in funding from last year’s budget would enable the Centre to accelerate its work in the most affected areas. It would also intensify its efforts to raise public awareness, establish safety lanes, erect fences and deepen cooperation for the rehabilitation of mine victims. The future work plan on mine action would also benefit from two five-year plans: the Master Plan for Mine Victim Assistance 2007-2012; and the Master Plan on Mine Risk Education 2007-2012.
SONG DANHUI ( China) said her country was vigorously dedicated to international assistance and cooperation in mine clearance. It believed that the Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons had struck a proper balance between the humanitarian concerns caused by landmines and the legitimate military need of sovereign States. It was of vital importance to enhance the universality of that Protocol and maintain its authoritativeness. China had strictly abided by the Protocol’s provisions, and its military had carried out practical and effective measures to ensure that its anti-personnel landmines in service met the Protocol’s relevant technical requirements. China had also almost eliminated the landmine threats on its territory through two large-scale mine-clearance operations in border areas.
She said that although China was not a party to the Mine Ban Convention, it endorsed and shared the Convention’s objectives and purpose. Since 1998, her country had actively participated in mine-clearance operations in more than 10 countries in Asia and Africa, by providing financial assistance and equipment for mine clearance, dispatching peacekeeping troops and mine-clearance expert groups, and hosting training courses. Chinese peacekeeping troops were still conducting landmine and unexploded ordnance clearance in Lebanon. China had also adopted the Beijing Action Plan at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation last year, in which it pledged to continue participating in humanitarian mine-clearance processes in Africa. Last month, China had hosted a mine-clearance training course for personnel from five mine-affected African countries -- Angola, Burundi, Chad, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique -- and it would also donate equipment to these countries.
JORGE DE LEMOS GODINHO ( Portugal), on behalf of the European Union, noted that, despite major improvements since 1997, landmines continued to claim several thousand victims every year, including large numbers of children. Reducing the risk posed by explosive remnants of war, including cluster munitions, would bring the world closer to its collective goal of protecting civilians. The European Union had allocated around €1.5 billion for mine action over the past 10 years, and was the single largest contributor of funds for both the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross for mine action-related endeavours.
He said that universalization of the Mine Ban Convention was an important goal, and the European Union looked forward to the eighth meeting of States parties in Jordan later this month. Indeed, a total of 40 States still remained outside the Treaty, and approximately 65 countries remained affected to some degree by anti-personnel landmines and explosive remnants of war.
While assistance for mine clearance and stockpile destruction must continue, there should be a stronger emphasis on victim assistance and mine-risk education, he said. The European Union would continue to help build the capacity of national mine-action structures around the world, which, in fact, was one of the main objectives of the 2005-2007 European Union Mine Action Strategy. It also supported the integration of mine-action requirements into national development plans and budgets to ensure the sustainability of such initiatives, and believed that integration of mine action into peacekeeping operations and mandates was also critical. Hopefully, the draft resolution on assistance in mine action, currently being circulated, would be adopted by consensus. If adopted, it would draw attention to an issue that affected thousands, and demonstrate the international community’s collective resolve to continue addressing that challenge.
MAGED A. ABDELAZIZ (Egypt), noting that more than 20 million mines and explosive remnants of war were spread over a quarter of a million hectares of his country, said that that situation required enormous financial and technical resources for detection and clearance. The mines’ presence had also resulted in many economic and social problems for Egypt and had a prominent humanitarian dimension, as the weapons caused excessive death and injuries among civilians. The total number of landmine casualties in Egypt neared an estimated 8,500, most of them civilians, including 700 deaths. The recorded mine explosion incidents exceeded 50 cases annually.
He said that, despite Egypt’s full support of the humanitarian objectives of the Mine Ban Convention, it was prevented from joining that instrument, owing to the stipulation requiring States parties to clear their territories of mines in a specified period of time. His country was unable to meet that obligation due to its limited domestic resources and the limited assistance provided by States originally responsible for the mines’ deployment. Despite the successful clearance of some 3 million mines by the Egyptian armed forces since 1981, the cost of mine detection and clearance operations remained exorbitant.
Also, the lack of maps showing the exact locations of the mines from the Second World War raised operational risks, he added. Still, Egypt was convinced of the need to deal with the practical and objective dimensions of the mine problem and had announced a moratorium on mine exports several years ago. It had also voluntarily stopped mine production in 1988 and had been a keen observer in all conferences of States parties to the Mine Ban Convention. Egypt would join the consensus on the draft resolution on “assistance in mine action” and would continue to strengthen its international cooperation dimensions in the future.
PHAN THI KIM HONG ( Viet Nam) said the continued presence of mines and explosive remnants of war had long undermined the economic and social development of affected countries. The United Nations had placed great importance in providing assistance to such countries, having set up an efficiently executed mine-action strategy to eliminate obstacles posed by that unexploded ordnance. The Government of Viet Nam appreciated its mine-action policy of 2001-2005, whose goals were almost entirely accomplished, and also supported the Inter-Agency Mine Action Strategy of 2006-2010.
She said that Viet Nam had undergone 30 years of war, with unexploded mines being a serious problem. So far, some 15 million metric tonnes of mines and explosive devices had been cleared with help from the international community. People were still threatened by mines scattered in various parts of the country, however, and every year, despite assistance from 35 international and non-governmental organizations, the Government still had 350,000 to 800,000 metric tonnes of unexploded ordnance to clear. Her country looked forward to continued international cooperation to complete the task of clearing mines and unexploded ordnance.
RODRIGO RIOFRÍO (Ecuador), aligning his statement with that of the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), said that the Mine Ban Convention of 1997 showed what could be achieved by the international community. The unprecedented clearing of land and the destruction of 40 million stockpiled mines were the outcome of a proper focus on shared responsibility. It had contributed to a sustained inter-institutional effort in the United Nations system. The United Nations Mine Action Team should be considered a model for other issues in the international community.
He said that Ecuador had continually worked to eliminate mines and their impact on the population. Since peace agreements were signed in 1998 with Peru, a joint mine-clearance effort had been undertaken. That process had been recognized by the international community as a unique event, and had strengthened the feeling of cooperation and friendship. Both States had recently renewed their intention to coordinate their efforts, particularly in the financial arena. A substantial area of the country had recently been cleared, but that was still less than half of the mined area. Ecuador only stored 1,000 mines, as allowed under the Mine Ban Convention.
Assistance to victims had been an important part of Ecuador’s mine-action programmes, he said. It had adopted legislation for persons who had been disabled by mines. According to that legislation, 4 per cent of the people disabled by such weapons should be given access to employment in the public and private sector. He reiterated the importance of joint efforts in achieving the Mine Ban Convention’s goals, adding that such efforts would only be successful if the international community continued to provide support.
CHITRA BAHADUR, Member of Parliament, Nepal, said that the use of mines in conflicts had brought about complex humanitarian consequences. For instance, landmines had adversely affected the rural economy, which was heavily dependent on agriculture. Continuing exposure to mines displaced populations, fuelling further conflicts and intensifying hunger and poverty. Mines also posed challenges in the rehabilitation of affected populations. As a country emerging from an armed conflict spanning more than a decade, Nepal remained “alive” to the effects of mines and other explosives. Though it was not yet a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, it supported collective international commitments to put a tab on the production, transfer and deployment of excessively injurious weapons, including mines.
He said that mine clearance was among the various aspects of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed last year by the Government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal Maoists. The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) had been lending technical support to the Government of Nepal in monitoring and destroying explosive devices, as agreed by the Joint Monitoring Coordinating Committee, composed of representatives of the Government, the Communist Party of Nepal Maoists and the United Nations Mission. That agreement contained provisions related to information-sharing on safe storage and mine clearance, and destruction. The country was also working with the Mission to improve national mine-clearance capacity, for which it was thankful.
His Government had recently decided to establish a mine-action authority under the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, he said, adding, however, that mine action was a risky and time-consuming job requiring high technical skill for safe handling. For that reason, there was a need for enhanced technical assistance, especially as mine-action technology reached new levels of sophistication.
PHOMMA KHAMMANICHANH (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) said that while tremendous efforts had been undertaken to remove mines and unexploded ordnance, much remained to be done, especially in assisting victims. More than 80 countries were still contaminated by explosive remnants of war, and hundreds of new victims were being claimed everyday. Thousands of survivors were longing for a helping hand. To build a safer environment for affected communities and meet the needs of survivors, every effort should be made to enhance international assistance and cooperation.
He said that the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, as the most heavily bombed country per capita the world had ever known, showed the lasting impact of unexploded ordnance. Today, 15 out of 17 provinces remained contaminated and the country’s capacity to meet its international commitment, including the Millennium Development Goals, was constrained. To address those serious humanitarian and development problems, the “Lao PDR Trust Fund” was established in 1995 and the Lao Unexploded Ordnance Programme had been launched. The Unexploded Ordnance Programme had raised more than $30 million, cleared more than 10,000 hectares of land and destroyed almost 800,000 bombs. Yet the present challenge facing the country was the need to clear more contaminated lands, provide adequate assistance to victims and their families, and reduce the number of civilian casualties.
His Government had adopted a national strategic plan for 2003-2013, “The Safe Path Forward”, he said. It focused on the humanitarian, social and environmental dimensions within the framework of overall socio-economic development and poverty eradication. The Government had further set up the National Regulatory Authority for the unexploded ordnance sector. It was his country’s hope that greater aid and back-up would be forthcoming from the international community for those efforts. His country had learned that clearing unexploded ordnance was not enough. In alleviating humanitarian consequences caused by those inhumane and indiscriminate weapons, priority should be given to assisting victims in affected areas, providing international assistance and cooperation and preventing those weapons’ proliferation. Working together, the international community could put an end to the source of the “killer toys”.
ABEL MOSES MAJOK ( Sudan) thanked the donor countries that had rendered mine-action assistance to his country through the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and national and regional organizations. Those contributions had helped support the Sudan National Mine Action Authority and the Southern Sudan Demining Authority. For its part, the country had taken several concrete steps to fulfil its obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty, including the establishment of a mine-action policy framework and a mine-action strategy. A mine-action budget had been included in the national budget to cover the cost of personnel and part of the running cost of the policy framework and strategy. In addition, 133 “deminers” had been trained in humanitarian mine clearance for eight weeks by the International Mine Action Centre in Nairobi, with funds from the United Kingdom.
He said that more than 7 million square metres of land had been cleared, 3,221 kilometres of road had been verified as safe and 850 kilometres of road cleared. In addition, 1,162 anti-personnel mines, 649 anti-tank mines and 282,525 mines and explosive remnants of war had been destroyed under United Nations coordination. Furthermore, more than 800,000 Sudanese had received mine-risk education.
Sudan gave serious attention to victims’ issues, which fell under the purview of the Ministry of Social Welfare, he said. In addition, existing national laws covered all kinds of disabilities, which provided a number of benefits -- including free transportation, education and health care. Around $10 million had been spent on the Al Amal Rehabilitation Centre, which also provided vocational training, and the private sector was being encouraged to employ victims of mines and explosive remnants of war. The International Committee of the Red Cross had also established a rehabilitation centre in Juba, southern Sudan.
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