HALO CEO calls for action on landmines

This speech was given by Guy Willoughby in November 2004 at the Nairobi Conference, to mark the 5 year point after the Ottawa Landmine Ban Treaty was signed.

Mr. President,

It is over 16 years since I set up The HALO Trust in Afghanistan, and globally we now have more than 6,000 deminers – clearing more mines, more hectares and using more equipment than any other demining agency. Perhaps this is why I have been invited to speak on behalf of  “The NGO Perspective” – a group of mine clearance NGOs. This month the international community and many mine affected countries are reviewing the 10 year mine clearance programmes launched through the Ottawa Treaty to eradicate landmines – to create the first mine free states by 2009. But I should not be here at Nairobi; in fact none of us should be here at all. HALO believes that by now we should all have finished mine clearance, or at least cleared the vast majority of mines that people and livestock may tread on.

But have we finished? NO.  And will you fulfill your 10-year obligations? In most mine affected countries – probably not. It is thoroughly depressing that HALO will probably reach its 21st birthday in five years' time and still be clearing large numbers of mines along with our NGO Perspective partners and other actors. It will not be a birthday to celebrate, more a recognition that some thing, some plan, somehow has gone terribly wrong and has resulted in the deaths and maiming of tens of thousands of mine victims out in the communities, who had been waiting for many years for the clearance teams to arrive and clear their fields and homesteads.

Were these communities living in false hope? Yes – they were. And in 1945 did Europeans in Narvik, Naples, Normandy and Nijmegen live in false hope that the landmines in their fields would be cleared? We have been researching history and talking to engineers, and we can tell you that the answer is NO – because they were cleared – millions and millions of landmines were cleared and they were cleared by 1950. One example, the Director of Handicap International France was recently in Kosovo and accompanied Raymond Aubrac, a well known resistance figure during World War II.  In 1945, Aubrac was tasked by General de Gaulle with the clearance of French soil under a civilian ministry, to allow the quick resumption of desperately needed civilian activities. Despite a lack of understanding of the problem and despite the scarce technical resources available, the bulk of this immense task was actually completed within just a few years. In Kosovo Raymond Aubrac met Endrit, a young boy of 8 who lost his right leg in March 2004 less than 50 metres from his home.

Commenting on this appalling accident, Aubrac made an astonishing reflection:

Perhaps the clearance of France was in fact so quickly implemented that the population didn’t have to endure the permanence of a threat like this one. If it had been more lasting and painful, my fellow citizens would better remember their ordeal and subsequently their support for mine clearance projects would be more forthcoming today.