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‘Inhumane’ explosive devices ‘crush lives and end livelihoods’ – UN chief 

UNMAS has been clearing mines in South Sudan following the conflict there.
UNMAS/Irina Punga
UNMAS has been clearing mines in South Sudan following the conflict there.

‘Inhumane’ explosive devices ‘crush lives and end livelihoods’ – UN chief 

Peace and Security

The “mere presence” of landmines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) can “stall development and shatter stability”, the UN chief told the Security Council on Thursday.  

“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”, Secretary-General António Guterres said at a ministerial-level debate on mine action. 

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Progress amidst challenges 

He highlighted some of the advances made towards demining, saying that between 2018 and 2020, UN funding has made more than 560 square kilometres of land safe, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cambodia and Colombia, noting that at “10 times the area of Manhattan”, the land freed up could now be used “for infrastructure, agriculture, markets, schools and roads”.  

However, amidst the progress, challenges have intensified. 

“Conflict has become more urbanized, armed groups are proliferating” and the use of IEDs is increasing, he said, adding that these complicate efforts to respond to the threat, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19 hurdles. 

UN mission threat 

The Secretary-General outlined three areas for attention, beginning with the relentless threat of explosive ordnances, which endanger those “serving in and protected by our Missions”. 

He urged Ambassadors to ensure that all peace operations are able to operate in environments which face high explosive threats, with peacekeepers given the knowledge and equipment to safely deliver on their mandates. 

“The evolving nature of explosive devices…requires us to constantly update our situational awareness and adapt our pre-deployment and in-mission training”, said Mr. Guterres, who also appealed to troop and police contributing countries to “invest in training and retaining the necessary expertise in their security services”.    

Secondly, the UN chief highlighted that mine action advances and underpins durable solutions to conflict, calling it “an essential first step towards peace and stability”. 

He explained that deminers are often the first to enter villages after ceasefires, clearing schools and hospitals, allowing for critical repairs to infrastructure, enabling displaced people to safely return and supporting “political and peace processes”, and urged the Council to “further integrate mine action into relevant resolutions, reporting and sanctions regimes”. 

Strengthen political will 

Third, he called for “increased political will and cooperation” by Member States themselves.  

“Mine action means working on prevention, to end the threat at its source…[and] attending to the rights and needs of survivors who have been maimed by these horrendous implements of warfare”, he said. 

In closing, the Secretary-General said that as explosive devices “represent the worst of humanity, efforts to eradicate them “reflect humanity at its best”, and asked the Council to “commit to intensify our words to rid the world of these inhumane threats”. 

Michelle Yeoh, Actor & UNDP Goodwill Ambassador on Mine Action and Sustaining Peace

‘Clear and present danger'

UNDP Goodwill Ambassador Michelle Yeoh, told the Council that mine action is not a topic of the past but presents “a clear and present danger”. 

“Less than a month ago, an ammunition depot explosion in Equatorial Guinea killed almost 100, injured 600 and left thousands homeless”, she said, adding that in 2020, explosive weapons were responsible for 19,000 deaths and injuries, with civilians accounting for 59 per cent of the casualties. 

Looking at the issue “beyond square meters clear”, Ms. Yeoh linked mine action to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), highlighting that UNDP’s long-term development impact on mine action includes job creation, tourism and utilizing released land for agricultural purposes. 

Legacy of war 

Women deminers and risk educators have confounded stereotypes to keep their communities safe, said Nguyen Thi Dieu Linh, Provincial Programme Manager and Manager of the all-women demining team in Viet Nam, RENEW, adding that demining is no longer seen as “men's work.” 

Having led her team in mine clearance and decontamination, she spoke of the large number of IEDs left over from the war and underscored the need to grow a national demining capacity as well as develop skills in mine action. 

Meanwhile, UN Global Advocate for the Elimination of Mines and Explosive Hazards, Daniel Craig, said that removing IEDs “improves stability at local, national and regional levels. 

“People can live without the fear that their next step may be their last”, he added.