Remarks by Assistant High Commissioner Judy Cheng-Hopkins for Mine Awareness Day (3 April 2007)
UNHCR welcomes this opportunity to give our support to the promotion of Mine Awareness Day. Mine action - including unexploded ordnance (UXO) and explosive remnants of war (ERW) - is an important part of International Protection and a vital component in operations with human security concerns in many countries.
As lead of the global Protection Cluster within the inter-agency humanitarian response mechanism, UNHCR is committed to reinforcing mine action strategies into all relevant country programmes. Increased cooperation between UNHCR and mine action partners, such as the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), is already evident and the benefits to the persons of concern are realised on a daily basis.
UNHCR has worked with a wide variety of operational Mine Action partners, including UNMAS, UNICEF, UNDP, Mine Advisory Group, SRSA, DDG and many others. Having said this, UNHCR is just one small part of the global Mine Action community - a community that is striving to bring an end to the suffering caused by these inhuman tools of war.
But what does this mean, exactly? How does the Mine Action community address the problems caused by mines, UXOs and ERW? It is generally accepted that there are five complementary components of mine action:
- Landmine and ERW clearance - this includes activities such as surveys, marking and clearance of mines and ERW. These activities are crucial in helping communities to re-establish livelihoods as well as serving basic human security needs;
- Mine risk education (MRE) - this includes educational activities which seek to reduce the risk of injury from landmines and ERW. Many of these activities target women (who traditionally do much of the work in mine-infested areas) and children (who are often most affected by mines and ERW);
- Victim assistance - this often includes activities that assist in rehabilitation and reintegration efforts by re-building capacity in communities to address basic needs;
- Stockpile destruction - a precursor to a stable and durable peace in mine-affected areas; and
- Advocacy - the mechanism through which humanitarian imperatives are most effectively reached. This includes the support of a total ban on anti-personnel landmines; to promoting the development of, and compliance with, international legal instruments that address the problems of landmines and ERW, and promote the human rights of affected people. Most recently, this also includes the process begun in Oslo on the use of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
These components are well and good but what exactly is being done to address mine action and to assist persons at risk? Here are some examples of projects that are being undertaken in 2007:
- Community mine risk education and advocacy for returnees in southern Burundi
- Survey and UXO clearance projects, including mine risk education, in South Sudan
- Mine risk education projects in central and eastern Equatoria
- Mine risk education for refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya (for Sudanese refugees)
- Mine risk education campaign for refugees and Zambians in mine-contaminated areas
These are only a few of the many, many activities and initiatives that are being implemented. There are even more still to begin. Civilian populations are often the first, and always the last, casualties of war. Mines, UXOs and ERW ensure that the suffering caused by civilian populations continues well past the signing of peace treaties or accords, past the withdrawal of armed forces and past the 'normalisation' of relations between warring countries or groups. Women and children are often the most affected groups in this case but through them the entire community suffers. Mines are a pervasive and continuous threat to lives and livelihoods and they must be eradicated.
UNHCR will continue to be an active participant in the global UN mine action forum, both as an operational partner and in our capacity as one of the lead agencies in International Protection. We look forward to continuing our close working relationship with all mine action partners, including those persons of concern who are most affected by these abhorrent weapons.