First line of defence for communities: teaching about mine risks.

Author:Kuhlmann, Tobias

When Liz Bernstein was working in the late 1980s in the refugee camps in the border region between Thailand and Cambodia, she saw that people who went out to collect firewood often returned severely injured or did not come back alive. These were the effects of landmines-weapons whose cruel function is such that they cannot be seen until they explode. Since then, Ms. Bernstein and many others around the world have taken up the fight against landmines. Some 15 years later, this horror is still present; however, as of September 2004, 143 countries had formally committed themselves to eradicate it.


The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which Ms. Bernstein joined in its early stages after her experiences in the refugee camps, has played a major role in lobbying the world's nations. The result was the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, known as the Mine-Ban Convention, which entered into force in 1999. Liz Bernstein thinks, and it is widely held, that this treaty is a milestone in the fight against such a weapon.

Five years later, it is time for a comprehensive review of the Convention, to be held at the Nairobi Summit on a mine-free world from 29 November to 3 December 2004. "Tremendous progress has already been made in dealing with the anti-personnel mine problem, but it still has a long way to go--a lot of work still needs to be done. So Nairobi is intended really to relaunch the movement, to bring some fresh attention to it, to mobilize Governments and civil society, and to push towards finishing the job. Let's get rid of this weapon once and for all", said Martin Barber, Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) at a UN Headquarters press briefing in April.

Cambodia is still one of the areas in the world heavily contaminated by mines and unexploded ordnance. However, according to UNMAS, the annual number of casualties from landmines there went down from roughly 3,046 in 1996 to approximately 745 in 2003, although a large proportion of the decrease is due to the end of fighting in the country. On a global scale, successes are similarly significant. While landmines in 1997 claimed an estimated 26,000 casualties each year, today they are down to between 15,000 and 20,000. "This is a substantial drop, but still too many people are killed. This needs to be brought to an end", Mr. Barber said.

Other indicators also show that during the five years after its entry into force, the Mine-Ban Convention has had significant effect: in 2003, according to the Landmine Monitor Report, which is published by a group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and serves as a civil society-based verification of the treaty, no more than five countries were still using landmines, down from an estimated nineteen in 1997. The number of countries thought to be producing anti-personnel landmines dropped from 54 in the early 1990s to 15 in 2003, when over 30 million stockpiles had been destroyed by States Parties to the treaty; there is no more official trading in landmines.

"One of the problems of the Convention--which certainly is not a real problem--is its success. Because it is so successful, there are so many States Parties, and because we keep saying good things about it, people forget that there are things left to do", Jackie Seck Diouf of UNMAS told the UN Chronicle...

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