KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - July
29 - As Afghanistan’s first international conference on antipersonnel landmines
gets underway today, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and the
Afghan Campaign to Ban Landmines (ACBL) will call on President Hamid Karzai and
his Government to join the battle against antipersonnel landmines by acceding
to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits all use, production, stockpiling
and trade of these weapons.
"For many, 'Afghanistan'
is almost synonymous with 'landmines.' And 'landmine' is synonymous with the devastation
of war," said the ICBL's Ambassador Jody Williams, co-recipient with the
ICBL of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize and special guest at the conference. "But
Afghanistan is now moving beyond war and a mine-free future for the people of
the country is now conceivable", said Williams. "To achieve this, the
government, including local commanders, must commit to never again use antipersonnel
mines and to destroy their stockpiles. Sustained donor support is also needed
for the country's ongoing mine action work and victim assistance and rehabilitation
activities," she added.
The Government of Afghanistan is hosting the conference, "Building a Peaceful
Future for Afghanistan: A Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines", in Kabul from
28 to 31 July, which has been organised in co-operation with the ACBL, ICBL and
the United Nations' Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (MACA).
The event promises to highlight the mine problem in this, the world's most
mine-affected country. All but two of Afghanistan's provinces are contaminated
with antipersonnel mines following more than two decades of war. For years, millions
of mines have hindered development and relief efforts, posing a threat to civilians,
aid workers, peacekeepers and military personnel alike. Some 150 to 300 people
are killed or injured by landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs) each month,
according to MACA.
These deaths and casualties rose sharply as civilians fled into unfamiliar
and often mined areas during the recent conflict. Now mines threaten the lives
and limbs of refugees and displaced people returning in their large numbers to
Afghanistan from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan.
Mine action activities were severely affected by the recent conflict: work
came to a halt after September 11 and clearance and survey equipment and facilities
were damaged and lost as a result of air strikes and looting. Today the country's
long established mine clearance, survey and mine risk education programmes are
operating at full capacity once more and many having expanded their work into
previously inaccessible areas.
With sustained donor support, the country's 360 square kilometres of high priority
mined areas could be cleared within ten years, and possibly sooner. When this
important farming and residential land, is cleaned up, along with roads and irrigation
canals, Afghans will be able get back to a normal life.
"Antipersonnel mines are the main obstacle to our country's peace and
development and this conference will help to galvanise national and international
support to end this scourge", said Fazel Karim Fazel, who heads the ACBL.
"With so many people returning home to rebuild their lives, it is clear that
we need to re-double our efforts to rid Afghanistan of these weapons of destruction".
Afghanistan's neighbours also have mine problems, most significantly India
and Pakistan which started using mines again along their shared border in December
last year. If Afghanistan commits to join the Treaty and eradicate landmines,
it could stand alongside Cambodia and Kosovo as an example of how the mine problem
can be reversed. It would also send a strong message to neighbouring countries
and others that are amongst the 50 countries outside the Treaty, including China,
Russia and the United States.
Background about the treaty
The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty is the international agreement that comprehensively
bans antipersonnel landmines. Sometimes referred to as the Ottawa convention,
it is officially titled: the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling,
Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.
Of the 143 states that have joined the treaty, a total of 125 have ratified
or acceded, most recently Angola. Another 18 are signatories but have not yet
taken the step of ratification which is required to make the Treaty legally binding
at a national level. A great deal of headway has been made since the treaty came
into force in March 1999: production of antipersonnel mines has dropped considerably
and trade has almost come to a halt; vast tracts of land have been cleared and
put back into productive use; there has been widespread and extensive destruction
of stockpiled mines; and most importantly, there are now fewer mine victims.
The new international norm, which prohibits mine use by anyone, is gathering
strength. More and more states are joining the treaty and working hard to implement
it fully. An increasing number of non-signatory states are responding to international
pressure and abiding by the spirit of the agreement. However, not all the news
is encouraging. Continued mine use by states and non-state actors in several conflicts
is of grave concern and ongoing mine production in about a dozen countries remains