Achieving Zero New Victims of Landmines

As we think about how to reduce and eliminate new victims of landmines, we are reminded of the remarkable advances during the evolution of mine action work which began with the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan in 1989. Our determination to live in a world free from the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war is fortified, as we remember those lost and those affected. It is my fervent hope that a world with zero new victims of landmines will become a reality in my lifetime.

Mine action activities make a considerable strategic contribution to lasting peace in post-conflict situations. The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), was established in 1997 as the United Nations focal point for mine-related actions through an amalgamation of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) Demining Unit and the Mine Clearance and Policy Unit (MCPU) of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA). UNMAS is now located in DPKO's Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions. Last year, over 200,000 landmines were cleared around the world. In Afghanistan alone, over 82,000 anti-personnel mines were removed during 2008 by over 8,000 national staff. Meanwhile, to date in the Sudan, collective efforts have cleared over 28,000 kilometres of road, thereby increasing freedom of movement, reclaiming productive land and reviving trade.

However, there are still formidable challenges: landmines continue to kill and injure every day, hinder social and economic development, and represent a serious obstacle for delivering humanitarian aid in critical areas of the world. UNMAS will continue to work with agility and determination, until we put our operations out of business. Until this happens the mine action sector will continue to navigate new terrain, adjust to new ideas and remain vigilant to face the challenge of ever-changing methods of warfare.

To achieve our goal of zero new victims of landmines, two key areas must be targeted: local communities and national Governments. The ownership of mine action operations by national Governments and the strength of the partnerships they build with donors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), humanitarian agencies and local communities is crucial. The United Nations plays an immediate catalytic role in the coordination of global mine action efforts. I am convinced that mine action operations, particularly those which are nationally managed and run, build confidence among the population and Government in the context of peacekeeping, and foster additional programmes to ensure the successful rebuilding of post-conflict States.

National Ownership

Mine action is ultimately the responsibility of individual national governmental authorities. It must therefore be integrated into national reconstruction and development plans at the earliest opportunity. In countries affected by explosive remnants of war, landmine removal is a necessary precursor to post-conflict reconstruction and development. This is also why transitioning UN-led operations into sustainable national operations is a critical element of our work.

Fostering local ownership of mine action operations is a continuing challenge, which is why the transition to national ownership is a key component of the United Nations inter-agency mine action strategy for 2006-2010. Having had success in Croatia and Afghanistan, UNMAS is currently in the process of transition in the Sudan.

Strength of Partnerships

Mine Action Coordination Centres are frequently cultivated under the direct auspices of local authorities. Our role at the United Nations is to provide assistance at the local levels and to support international cooperation. Strengthening local capacity will ensure the sustainability of the operations at the national level. Local NGOs have proven time and again how vital they are to mine action efforts in countries such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Sudan. The United Nations could not presume to achieve a forward agenda without the cooperation of the broader international community. After all, it was civil society and forward-thinking countries such as Canada and Norway, that led the way to the Ottawa Convention. Non-governmental organizations and the mine-affected countries are doing much of the work and continue to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility for achieving a mine-free world. Although we have a vision for what the future should look like and a plan for doing our own part to get there, we rely on all of them to lead the way. The strength of these partnerships at the national level also creates a solid foundation for coordinating the global response to mine action.

United Nations Coordination

Over the past 12 years, UNMAS has managed unprecedented coordination through the Inter-Agency Coordination Group on Mine Action (IACG-MA). In 1998, the General Assembly welcomed the establishment of UNMAS in its role as a system-wide focal point and "its ongoing coordination with and coordination of all mine-related activities of United Nations agencies, funds, and programmes."[1] That endorsement has been consistently reiterated in subsequent resolutions. In one of the first major tasks as a focal point, UNMAS coordinated the development of the 2005 policy document "Mine Action and Effective Coordination: The United Nations Inter-Agency Policy", which was intended to provide overarching policy guidance and to delineate responsibilities amongst the 14 UN departments, agencies, funds and programmes involved in the sector. The policy also identified five key pillars within mine action: advocacy, mine risk education, stockpile destruction, victim assistance and mine clearance. This policy was subsequently updated in 2005. UNMAS has also coordinated the development of two five-year strategies covering the periods 2001-2005 and 2006-2010.

Since the initial Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan in 1989, the United Nations has been involved in humanitarian mine action in many countries. In the early 1990s, mine action activities were an integral component of UN Peacekeeping Operations in Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia and Mozambique. By the mid-90s, a number of countries reached a consensus about the global scale of landmine threats and a broad coalition of civil society actors formed the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). This resulted in the adoption of the landmark Ottawa Convention in 1997, ICBL's nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, and a transformation to a friendlier landscape in which UNMAS operates. As 1 March 2009 marked the twelfth anniversary of the APMBT, targeted advocacy efforts are required to ensure the Treaty's further implementation.

In addition to dealing with the anti-personnel mine problem, UNMAS operations address the threat posed by anti-vehicle mines, other explosive remnants of war, and the needs of survivors requiring assistance long after clearance has been completed. Since 2002, UNMAS has lobbied intensively for legally binding instruments that address these issues: Protocol V of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), the first multilaterally negotiated instrument to deal with unexploded and abandoned ordnances, entered into force in 2006. More recently, 98 States signed, and 10 of those ratified the new Cluster Munitions Convention (CMC), which opened for signature in Oslo on 3 December 2008. The Convention prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions and further addresses topics such as assistance to victims, clearance of contaminated areas and destruction of stockpiles. As the DPKO focal point for the Inter-Agency Support Group for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNMAS closely followed the Convention enter into force on 3 May 2008 and is starting to integrate it into its work at United Nations Headquarters and in the field. These new instruments will reinforce the overarching legal framework under which UNMAS operates.

In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of DPKO and Department of Political Affairs (DPA)-led operations with mine action components as either specified or implied tasks within the mandate. UNMAS currently provides direct support and assistance to ten peacekeeping missions, and technical advice to an additional four. In these operations, UNMAS is dealing with the full gamut of mine action activities, including assistance to countries with legacy problems from long-term conflict situations, such as Afghanistan, the Sudan and Western Sahara; the implementation of victim assistance programmes, such as in the Sudan; the destruction of ammunition stockpiles and caches, as carried out in Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo; the clearance of routes and other essential infrastructure, as in the Sudan, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo; large-scale explosive remnants of war contamination, for example in Chad, Lebanon and Western Sahara; and the destruction of explosive remnants of war as an essential element of a peace settlement, as performed in Nepal. These examples highlight the range of activities and the number of players involved in the mine action sector. They also underscore the fact that coordination is a prerequisite to the effective implementation of mine action operations at the country level.

The Way Forward

As mine action moves forward, opportunities present themselves to enhance the role that UNMAS and its partners can play in supporting existing processes, as well as emerging issues that are of concern to the mine action community. UNMAS will continue to hone its strategies and programmes to maximize the impact of its work. Transitioning mine action operations to national ownership will improve its integration both within and beyond the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and facilitate the development of a coherent inter-agency policy. Each of these elements will play a key role in advancing our vision of a world where individuals and communities live in a safe environment conducive to development, where the needs of victims are met and where survivors are fully integrated into their societies.

My line of work is one that too infrequently makes the evening news headlines. However, it is work that is essential to the daily lives of millions of people around the world who rely on our efforts to remove landmines and explosive remnants of war, so they can safely walk their children to school in Kabul, Afghanistan or transport their crops to markets on mine-free roads in El Fasher, the Sudan.

The events of the last two decades have not resolved, but have sharpened the challenges for mine action operations. These global challenges affect millions of people in nearly 80 countries who still live in daily fear of landmines and explosive remnants of war. As the worldwide mine action community evolves to address the continued challenges posed by these munitions, UNMAS will respond with appropriate alacrity. The active participation and support of national authorities and local and international NGOs is the only way to truly attain the goal of zero new landmine victims. Such a global challenge demands a global response, agreed and coordinated through this most universal of institutions, the United Nations.

[1] A/Res/62 (1999)