3 May 1999


3 May 1999

Press Release


19990503 Louise Fréchette Congratulates Mozambique On Its Remarkable Work to Overcome Problems Created by Landmines

Following is the text of the statement by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the First Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti- Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (Ottawa Convention), in Maputo today:

I am honoured to address this First Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction. As Depositary for the Convention, the Secretary-General has invited all Members of the United Nations and Observer States, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross and representatives of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. It is good to see so many of you here. Your presence is crucial to the continuing effort to turn the words of the Convention into deeds. All of you have been vital actors in the process so far. I know we can continue to count on you.

It is fitting that this meeting takes place in Mozambique. Mozambique is to be congratulated, on hosting this meeting, on ratifying the treaty itself, and -- above all -- as one of the world's countries that has suffered most from landmines, on its remarkable work to overcome the problems they create.

Mozambique's consolidation of peace and continuing economic recovery also provide an inspiration to us all and a blessing for the development of the entire southern African region. For the United Nations, Mozambique's triumph is of special significance. It will be remembered as one of the United Nations biggest success stories in peacemaking, peacekeeping, humanitarian and electoral assistance, and the repatriation of refugees.

Today, the United Nations pays tribute to those who spearheaded the movement behind the Convention on Anti-Personnel Mines. In capitals and communities worldwide, this partnership between governments and civil society succeeded because it was firmly rooted in the conviction that the cost of landmines far outweighed the need to use them. That conviction was matched by the courage of true leadership.

The signing of the Convention, and its entry into force in March this year, constitute real progress. But even as we meet here in this year of 1999 -- two months after the treaty came into force -- new mines are still being laid every week, in conflicts old and new, from Angola to Kosovo. Clearly, there is much more to be done, and that is what this meeting is all about.

We must persuade all governments who have yet to sign the treaty to do so.

We must ensure swift implementation of the Convention.

And we must continue our efforts to clear existing mines.

Since the treaty came into force on 1 March this year, six more States have deposited their instruments of ratification, bringing the total to 74. The forces of political leadership and sustained public advocacy that have got us this far are reflected in the large number of countries participating in the meeting. But the political momentum must continue; too many Member States have yet to sign the treaty. I hope this meeting will galvanize more governments into supporting it.

The entire United Nations family is determined to work with you in getting the Convention implemented. This First Meeting of the States Parties is a major step in that process. Over the next few days, you will have the opportunity to hear directly from the departments and agencies involved. In the longer term, the provisions of the Convention include a procedure to monitor progress in the achievement of its objectives. It establishes an annual reporting system of transparency measures, which the United Nations will implement, and calls for regular meetings, to be convened by the Secretary-General, up to the date of the first review conference. The United Nations will also assist States Parties in following the procedures laid down in the Convention to facilitate and clarify compliance.

Implementing the treaty means not only eliminating the production, stockpiling, use and transfer of anti-personnel mines. Perhaps most important, it means ensuring their destruction of stockpiles as required by the Convention. But it is an enormous task. Some countries still retain millions of mines and will need the help of the international community in

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destroying them. Other States Parties to the Convention with greater resources and expertise have a special obligation to help.

At the same time, the already badly stretched financing for existing mine clearance must not be eroded. Experience warns us that it can take decades to remove the mines once the conflict has ended. I have seen first-hand the excruciatingly labour-intensive and time-consuming procedure that demining entails: prodding every square metre of soil, 600 to 800 times per square metre. No one knows this better than you here in Mozambique.

But the task must and will continue. For no matter how well the international community works to restore order once a conflict has ended, there will be further casualties as refugees return and try to rebuild their lives on land riddled with mines, and for decades afterwards as innocent men, women and children go about their daily business. In some countries, the incidence of explosions is such that on average, every family -- I repeat, every family -- has had a member either killed or maimed by a mine or unexploded ordnance. In Angola, no serious specialist is able to mention even an approximate number of mines laid in the country after more than 30 years of fighting. The reason is simple: the protagonists themselves do not know.

The effects on development are similarly devastating. The presence -- or even the fear of the presence -- of a single landmine can prevent the cultivation of an entire field, rob a whole village of its livelihood, place yet another obstacle on a country's road to reconstruction. For the United Nations, this ugly legacy of conflict also threatens our ability to provide assistance where it is most needed. It affects every aspect of the work of the Organization -- from peace and security to health and development.

The role of the United Nations in mine action is therefore one we are entitled to be proud of. Many members of the United Nations family work together in mine action. Some of them are represented here today. The focal point is the United Nations Mine Action Service, within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has assumed leadership in mine awareness education, and has played a key role in getting States to ratify the treaty. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works on the capacity-building aspects of mine action programmes, and along with the World Bank, addresses the long-term obstacles mines pose to reconstruction and development. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides public health assistance to victims.

A key long-term goal of United Nations mine action assistance is to develop a national demining mine action capacity in each affected country. In southern Mozambique, for example, some 30 international specialists were brought in under the auspices of the United Nations Accelerated Demining Programme to set up a regional programme in all aspects of mine clearance.

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Three years later, the number of international staff was down to a handful of technical advisers, against 500 national staff. All the heads of department were Mozambicans. The programme had grown from scratch into a self-sustained and effective operation. Another initiative is now under way to strengthen the effectiveness of the national mine action coordination institution, the National Demining Commission.

As many of you know, the United Nations Mine Action Service is voluntarily funded. Last year, donors contributed more than $11 million to the Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action -- funds that allowed the United Nations to continue its programmes in mine clearance, develop guidelines for mine awareness, conduct assessment missions and other mine action activities.

Since the founding of the United Nations more than half a century ago, the whole concept of war has changed. Casualties of war today are 80 per cent civilians. Many of them are victims of landmines. When succeeding generations come to judge us, their forefathers from the end of the twentieth century, they will do so not only on the good we created -- but also on the evil we had the courage to destroy. So long as the world is not free of mines, people will be deprived of their basic right to a decent life; communities will be denied the opportunity to prosper; nations will be depleted of resources they need to rebuild and develop.

And so the United Nations will keep working with all of you towards a world free of mines. By making the use of these abominable weapons absolutely unacceptable, we can limit and reduce the suffering of civilians after a conflict; we can help the healing process; and we can protect innocent civilians, including humanitarian workers, peacekeepers and all those working towards making the world a safer place. On behalf of the United Nations, I thank every one of you for your contribution.

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For information media. Not an official record.