Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged greater support for the nearly half a million survivors of landmines and explosive remnants of war around the world to enable them to realize their rights and be productive members of society.
Without such support, survivors may face “a lifetime of poverty and discrimination, lacking adequate health care or rehabilitation services,” Mr. Ban stated in a message marking the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, observed annually on 4 April.
While global mine removal and education efforts have helped to reduce the number of mine victims to some 6,000 in 2007 – a dramatic decrease from only a few years ago – the Secretary-General stressed that “still, the only acceptable casualty rate is zero.”
He noted that 24 of the mine-affected States that have ratified the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine-Ban Treaty are approaching their 10-year deadlines to clear anti-personnel mines laid down on their territories or in areas under their control.
“As States strive to reach this important objective, the threat of new casualties will diminish,” he noted. And yet the challenge of protecting the rights and well-being of survivors must be addressed for decades to come.
Mr. Ban called on States that have not yet ratified all disarmament, humanitarian and human rights laws and protocols related to landmines and explosive remnants of war to do so, stressing that it is “only through the widest possible ratification and full compliance will the international community succeed in preventing new injuries and fatalities while ensuring that victims and their families fully realize their rights.”
A team of 14 UN agencies, programmes, departments and funds supports and manages mine action efforts in 42 countries and territories.
John Flanagan, Acting Director of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), pledged the world body’s continued support for mine action until affected countries have the capacities to address the problem on their own.
He noted that a number of countries are on track to being mine-free in 2009, in line with their Mine-Ban Treaty obligations. “We want to make sure countries have the technical, managerial and financial resources to meet their treaty obligations,” he stated.
According to the UN, Iraq has one of the highest concentrations of landmines, unexploded ordnance (UXO) and other explosive remnants of war in the world. “They inflict lifelong injuries, deny access to productive land and undermine freedom of movement, including for the delivery of humanitarian relief,” said the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, David Shearer. “We need to increase efforts to reduce the harm they cause, and treat their victims.”
In Afghanistan, which is still one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, UN-assisted mine action programmes have cleared more than one billion square metres of land across the strife-torn nation.
Likewise, the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is working together with local and national partners to rid the southern part of the country from the scourge of mines and cluster bombs, including through mine risk education and awareness-raising activities.
“The presence, or even fear of, a single landmine lurking in the backyard or a tiny cluster bomb hovering in the village orchard, can hold an entire community hostage,” said UNIFIL Force Commander Major General Claudio Graziano. “We are acutely aware of the deleterious effects this can have on a society, both in real and psychological terms.”
A large number of cluster munitions and UXOs are also still being found in rural areas of Kosovo, according to the UN mission there, known as UNMIK. The deadly devices, along with unmarked mined areas, are among the main problems encountered by those in involved in mine action efforts.