SAR, Vol 12 No 3, June 1997
A CONFERENCE REPORT
BY VALERIE WARMINGTON
Valerie Warmington is the Chairperson of Mines Action Canada, a coalition of Canadian NGOs and others committed to achieving a global ban on landmines and to increasing support for mine clearance and victim assistance in affected regions of the world.
There are an estimated 50 million landmines scattered throughout Africa, twenty million in Southern Africa alone. Estimates suggest that 250,000 people have died or been injured because of landmines in Africa in the past 35 years. Yet as political discussions aimed at ending the humanitarian crises caused by landmines intensifies, African governments have remained relatively silent on the issue, despite being the most heavily mine-affected continent in the world.
Earlier in February, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) , working closely with newly-formed coalition member, the Mozambique Campaign to Ban Landmines, sponsored the 4th International NGO Conference on Landmines in Maputo, Mozambique. An impressive 450 organizations from 60 countries gathered together to consider how to reach and mobilize more organizations in this global campaign.
The conference was an undeniable success. Announcements by the governments of South Africa and Mozambique that they had banned landmines captured media and public attention throughout the region and around the world. These governments, as well as those of Malawi, Swaziland and Tanzania, joined the more than 50 countries around the globe supporting a fast-track approach to banning landmines. Popularly referred to as the Ottawa Process, this approach calls for countries to become involved in the negotiation and signing of a treaty banning landmines in Canada in December this year.
The Ottawa Process is increasingly recognized as an achievable and credible approach to the call for strong and urgent international action against anti-personnel mines. In the final session of the Maputo Conference, the 800-NGO strong ICBL reaffirmed its commitment to the Ottawa Process and underscored its view that other fora, such as the UN Conference on Disarmament would take too long.
The ICBL's base of support in Africa was significantly expanded and strengthened as a result of the Maputo Conference. Established campaigns, like the South African Campaign to Ban Landmines, with a membership of over 100 NGOs, shared their experience with many interested NGOs and emerging campaigns across Africa. Many of these campaigns are new to the world of political lobbying and inexperienced in mobilizing public opinion in support of political objectives. However, this inexperience is countered by the motivation, commitment and determination of these individuals and groups in their opposition to landmines.
The Association of Disabled People in Mozambique (ADEMO) is actively involved in the Mozambican campaign. ADEMO members are collecting signatures for the petition to ban landmines globally.
A hopeful sign of the growing recognition of ban-landmine coalitions by governments was a recent invitation by the Zimbabwean Government to the country's Campaign to Ban Landmines to tour the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) factory in Domboshawa. The invitation was intended to confirm that the factory was not producing landmines. While encouraged by the gesture and the briefing given to them by ZDI's General-Manager Colonel T.J. Dube, the Campaign points out that more than an end to production is required. Large stockpiles remain intact and an estimated 1 million mines pollute Zimbabwe's land. The Zimbabwe Campaign continues to encourage the government to commit itself to the Ottawa Process, destroy existing stockpiles and increase efforts at mine clearance.
The Angolan Campaign to Ban Landmines took advantage of a recent visit to Angola by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to get his signature on a petition calling for a comprehensive and immediate ban on landmines. Mr. Annan's signature is an important addition to the millions of signatures collected around the world by national ban-landmine campaigns.
Recently, national campaigns in southern Africa and other interested groups met in Harare to develop strategies to ensure strong South Africa Development Community (SADC) involvement in the Ottawa Process. Zimbabwe is expected to join Mozambique and South Africa in banning landmines. Malawi, Swaziland and Tanzania have expressed their support for a ban but seem to waiting to see how other governments respond at the Organization for African Unity Conference on a Landmine Free Africa taking place in Johannesburg May 19 to 21.
At the Harare meeting, a committee was formed to coordinate regional efforts to convince governments to participate in negotiating and signing a treaty banning landmines this December.
Regionally, another important opportunity for southern African campaigns to draw attention to the landmines issue was an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hosted seminar for senior political and military officials of SADC states held in Harare April 20 to 23. The seminar facilitated an exchange of information and experience between SADC members aimed at producing a common southern African approach to the anti-personnel mines problem. This meeting was also an excellent opportunity for Campaign members to capitalize on media and public interest.
Media interest in the landmines issue remains high in southern Africa. Recent coverage included a call by Mozambican President Chissano for a global ban on anti-personnel landmines at the Islamic Conference in Pakistan, coverage of the Harare campaign meeting and the ICRC seminar.
The next major opportunity to promote the campaign is the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Conference on a Landmine Free Africa: The OAU and the Legacy of Anti-Personnel Mines in Kempton Park, South Africa, May 19 - 21. On the opening day of the conference, the South African government intends to destroy some landmines. This conference provides a unique opportunity for campaigners to meet with African government representatives and to provide them with information that has persuaded other governments to ban landmines and to increase efforts at mine clearance and victim assistance .
Like the ICRC seminar, the OAU conference provides NGOs with ready access to the media. Campaigners will focus the attention of African citizens and citizens around the world on the positions of participating governments. Efforts to take full advantage of these opportunities are being spearheaded by the South African Campaign to Ban Landmines. The experience gained will strengthen the capacity of African Campaigns to inform people everywhere of the humanitarian and developmental realities of landmines and what their governments can and should be doing.
Landmines must be banned. On my way to a minefield being cleared by the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs in Mozambique, I passed through a small village. "The minefield is just ahead," my UN companion informed me. "The mines in this area were laid in rings around villages like this one, probably as a defensive measure." The boundary of the minefield was marked with white ribbon. As we drew closer, I was horrified to see two young girls carrying wood leaving the mined area. Sensing my concern, my UN colleague assured me that they had cleared a "safe lane" to allow villagers access to areas outside the ring of mines. His words could not erase the image of a picture I had seen of the horribly mangled body of a small boy who, as children are prone to do, had stepped outside the bounds of a similar "safe lane" on his way to school.
The sight of about 20 landmines uncovered and awaiting destruction at the minefield, an area once used as farmland, did little to allay my fears. Nor did the discovery of two tripwired bounding fragmentation mines. Yet, in watching the committed and skilled Mozambican deminers, I realized that in this area at least, it would one day be safe to farm, collect wood and send children out to play.
The price of clearing mines left behind after countless conflicts around the world is overwhelming our capacity to respond. In light of the humanitarian, development and economic costs of landmines, it is incomprehensible that governments continue to tolerate the production and use of so destructive a weapon. The answer is clear - landmines must be banned now.
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