Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Security Council’s open debate on mine action today:
Let me first congratulate His Excellency Foreign Minister Bui Son on his appointment and welcome him to the United Nations. I thank Viet Nam for putting this important issue on the agenda and reminding us of the work left to do.
Landmines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices maim and kill indiscriminately. They are left in the path of women walking to work, a family displaced by conflict and seeking safety, children on their way to school. They crush lives and end livelihoods. Their mere presence can stall development and shatter stability.
Since Security Council resolution 2365 was adopted in 2017, Member States, the United Nations and regional and civil society partners have released significant expanses of land. From 2018 to 2020, United Nations funding has made more than 560 square kilometres of land safe, from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Cambodia to Colombia. This land — which is 10 times the area of Manhattan — is needed for infrastructure, agriculture, markets, schools and roads.
In 2020, more than 3.5 million people were reached by United Nations-supported risk reduction, enabling communities to go about their daily business more safely. Today, the United Nations Mine Action Service supports 13 peace operations, and improvised explosive devices threat mitigation training has contributed to peacekeeper safety, particularly in Mali.
In 2014, MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) detected 11 per cent of improvised explosive devices before they exploded. This rate rose to 50 per cent in 2020, with fatalities from improvised explosive devices attacks declining accordingly. And three quarters of the countries and territories in which the United Nations conducts mine action have now developed their own national standards to ensure quality and keep deminers safe.
But, while progress has been made, challenges have intensified. Conflict has become more urbanized, armed groups are proliferating and the use of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, is increasing. All these factors complicate efforts to mitigate and respond to the threat — which, in the past year, has been exacerbated by access and mobility hurdles due to COVID-19.
Today is our opportunity to take stock. Let me highlight three areas for attention.
First, the constant threat of explosive ordnance endangers the lives of the people serving in and protected by our missions. I urge Member States to ensure that all peace operations have the capacity to operate in environments facing high explosive threats, and particularly IEDs. Peacekeepers must have the knowledge and the equipment they need to deliver on their mandates safely.
The use of IEDs continues to represent the greatest threat to AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) troops in Somalia and to United Nations peacekeepers in Mali. New explosive threats are emerging in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And landmines and explosive remnants of war hinder peacekeeper mobility in South Sudan and Abyei.
The evolving nature of explosive devices and their use requires us to constantly update our situational awareness and adapt our pre-deployment and in-mission training. I thank Kenya for hosting the recent Arria formula meeting on the threat posed to peacekeepers by IEDs and I urge Member States to enhance their commitment to training and equipping troop- and police-contributing countries. I also appeal to troop- and police-contributing countries to invest in training and retaining the necessary expertise in their security services.
Secondly, I want to highlight the role of mine action in advancing and underpinning durable solutions to conflict. Mine action is an essential first step towards peace and stability. Deminers are often the first to enter cities and villages after ceasefires, clearing schools and hospitals, or allowing for critical repairs to water or sanitation infrastructure.
Mine action enables the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons. And mine action can support political and peace processes. We have seen this in Darfur and Libya. In Colombia, mine action has facilitated the reintegration of former combatants, offering a pathway to civilian life.
Let’s maximize the opportunities that mine action affords us. For example, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Colombia to South Sudan, women deminers and risk educators have broken stereotypes to keep their communities safe, contributing to the women, peace and security agenda. Today, we will hear from a briefer who led an all-women demining team, contributing to mine clearance and decontamination in Viet Nam.
Whether clearing roads to farmland, routes to alternative youth employment, or access to services for victims and persons with disabilities, mine action can lay the groundwork for sustainable development and inclusion. I urge this Council to strengthen efforts to further integrate mine action into relevant resolutions, reporting and sanctions regimes.
This brings me to my third and final point. We need increased political will and cooperation to prevent and respond to the threat of explosive ordnance. More than 160 States are party to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. I call on those that have not yet acceded to the Convention to do so without delay.
Mine action means working on prevention, to end the threat at its source. It means clearing contaminated land to save lives and enable recovery. And it means attending to the rights and needs of survivors who have been maimed by these horrendous implements of warfare.
Ultimately, mine action is a national responsibility. I welcome efforts by many Member States to integrate mine action into their development plans and budgets. But political will at the national level must be complemented by partnerships and cooperation at the local, regional and international levels.
Strong cooperation is needed among Governments, the United Nations, international and civil society organizations. In that regard, I welcome the partnership between the United Nations and the African Union in reducing the threat of IEDs.
Landmines, IEDs and explosive remnants of war represent the worst of humanity. But efforts to eradicate them reflect humanity at its best. Let us today commit to intensify our words to rid the world of these inhumane threats.