Decades ago, millions of landmines were buried in countries across the world. From Cambodia to Mozambique, in Angola and in Afghanistan, thousands of lives were lost, with others altered forever because of one unlucky step. The outcry by civil society in the early 1990s drove the multilateral system to take a stand against the use of anti-personnel mines, leading to the Mine Ban Convention of 1997 and other crucial frameworks. Today, many countries have declared themselves mine free – with others well on the way.
Now, the world is facing a daunting pandemic. The dangers posed by COVID-19 are forcing every country, and every person, to take steps that would have seemed unimaginable mere weeks ago. It is for this reason that this year’s observance of the International Day for Mine Awareness has been scaled back. The football tournaments, due to take place on land cleared of explosive ordnance, have been cancelled; the events aimed at bringing together the mine action community will take place virtually, if at all.
Yet, even in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, we cannot let this Day go unnoticed, nor can we allow the rights of persons with disabilities to go unacknowledged. Mines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices threaten some of the most vulnerable people in society: women traveling to markets, farmers herding cattle, humanitarian workers trying to reach those most in need.
Moreover, the achievements of the mine action community show that, in working together, we can reach milestones once seen as impossible – a timely message for our efforts today to suppress transmission of the pandemic.
So let us remember the people living under the shadow of explosive ordnance, from Syria to Mali and elsewhere. As many people around the world work safely from home, they will remain exposed and vulnerable. And, when the world emerges from today’s crisis, they will continue to need our support.
UNMAS Director and Global Advocate Joint Statement
The tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible, this year, for us to gather in countries, across the world, to mark International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action and to celebrate with community activities and events.
Now, more than ever, compassion and international assistance are needed. As such, we would like to express our deep solidarity with all those who are fighting against and affected by this dreadful virus. It will be conquered!
The mine action sector has always understood the importance of combining our efforts to eradicate the horrors, whether they are viruses or explosive hazards of war, that have plagued mankind. It is part of our DNA. Thus, we hasten to assure you that our commitment to continue to work to rid the world of explosive hazards has not faltered. We remain resolute!
On this April 4th, 2020, our special gratitude goes to all mine action personnel, UNMAS staff and others, who, in over 30 mine-affected countries, help rehabilitate health care facilities, keep access routes open for humanitarian workers, medical staff and peacekeepers and who enable communities to reach them safely.
Be blessed. Stay strong and healthy.
Agnès Marcaillou, Director, United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS)
Daniel Craig, UN Global Advocate for the Elimination of Mines and Explosive Hazards