The visiting UN special envoy on anti Personnel Mine Ban Convention Prince Mired Raad Al Hussein says, if Sri Lanka can sustain the political will and the upward trajectory that it currently shows in mine clearance activities, he was certain the country will be free of anti personnel landmines in a few years.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer last week, the Special envoy said even though the 2020 target was quite challenging, Sri Lanka was in a good footing to overcome donor fatigue and “..is on top of the list of countries that can get the job done and be very successful on this issue.”
Excerpts of the Interview
Q. Sri Lanka has finally acceded to the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Convention in 2017 and wants to be free of landmines by 2020. How do you see this development, given that Sri Lanka was one of the biggest users of landmines during its 30 year conflict?
A. I must congratulate Sri Lanka for acceding to the Convention, it’s a great step forward , we welcome Sri Lanka with open arms.
The fact that the country has put a deadline for 2020 is wonderful. Of course, it’s challenging, nothing is ever easy, it would be tremendous if it can be accomplished. But, even if Sri Lanka is unable to achieve it by 2020 and if it needs to extend a little bit also, it’s not a great disaster, because the country has 10 years to clear its mines, from the day the Convention becomes operationalised. The Convention comes into effect on June 1, 2018 for Sri Lanka. It is important to do it expeditiously, but it is also important to do it according to the standards.
What is great about the situation in Sri Lanka is that the goals of the Convention can be achieved within a short span unlike other countries where the end is not in sight.
Q. What is your take on the progress with regard to de-mining in the North, following your visit to the region?
A. To me it seemed like the work is moving forward really well. And, the fact that there are international operators working in Sri Lanka is a great sign. I witnessed the armed forces doing a very professional job of demining, and also there are two civilian Sri Lankan organizations involved in this work. I think their effort is quite remarkable.
Q. Delivering a lecture at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute last Tuesday, you said donor fatigue was a major factor impacting mine clearing activities worldwide. What is the general progress around the world in mine clearance and how do you overcome this challenge of donor fatigue?
A. I don’t think 20 years ago people would have even imagined the success that we have achieved 20 years later in mine action. The Convention has been a tremendous success. Millions of landmines have been demined and destroyed. It is our concern to keep this success rate. We still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, there are millions of landmines on the ground all over the world as well as stock piles which are yet to be destroyed.
Survivors still need our support and assistance, they need to be afforded their rights- the innocent people with disabilities. Although we have attained a great amount of success, we are nowhere near achieving our ultimate goals.
Q. What is your advice for Sri Lanka to overcome the issues that might cripple the ongoing demining efforts here?
A. To be totally honest, there is some donor fatigue around the world, but Sri Lanka, being a country that has recently acceded, and a country that has all the elements of success, the political will must be the most important element. I heard it from the President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, they are all very serious about this issue. Having persistent political will is fundamental.
It is my belief, the donor communities – the state parties who are in a position to support Sri Lanka will come around when they see the success is very near, and that it can be attained.
With the right support and the right amount of encouragement it can be achieved within a few years and it is my belief that there will be support for Sri Lanka.
Q. In your lecture at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute you spoke about non-state actors. The Sri Lankan State having fought a non-state actor in the form of the LTTE may need to be cognizant that non-state actors are not held to the same standards as a national state. Do you make any specific efforts to compel the non-state actors to accede to the Convention?
A. As the Special Envoy, my message is related to everyone, not just the state actors. Everyone is expected to respect and abide by the Convention. It is a noble Convention, what we are trying to achieve is a humanitarian goal. There are other organizations that interact with the non-state actors and convince them not to use this despicable weapon. But, that is not something I am personally involved in.
Q. How successful have you been in getting on board the mine manufacturing countries to accede to the Convention?
A. As far as I know a very few number of countries are still manufacturing landmines. In the future, we must get those countries to stop manufacturing landmines and later get them to accede to the Treaty. We are trying to reach out to some of these countries, but of course, it is not an easy process. We will never give up.
Some countries that might not want to accede today, might change their minds later. For instance, some countries like Iraq and Kuwait which said they will never become a signatory to the Convention have now acceded.
Q. World giants such as India, China, US and Russia are yet to accede to the Ottawa Treaty. In the South Asia region even Pakistan and Nepal are not signatories yet. How will this impact the world and the SAARC region in particular?
A. It is great if India and Pakistan can accede to the Convention. The ultimate goal is to see a total ban on landmines, and to ensure that no human being is injured, maimed or killed by a landmine in the future. I like to believe it is realistic.
Q. Where does Sri Lanka stand among other post war countries with regard to landmine clearance?
A. On relative terms, Sri Lanka is in a pretty good position since the end is in sight. Other mine affected countries still have a long way to go. The problems they face are much more complicated. They don’t have any maps to guide them and if there are maps, they are not so accurate. There is no information whatsoever.
But, in Sri Lanka even though there are landmines laid by non-state actors, the end is in sight. Compared to other countries, the problem here is less complicated. Sri Lanka is on top of the list of countries that can get the job done and be very successful on this issue.
Q. One special feature of de-mining in Sri Lanka is that women, including war widows, have taken the lead in these operations (as many as 50% of HALO Trust workers are women). How do you see this from the perspective of empowerment of women and building a new future for war-torn areas?
A. It is tremendous to have women de-miners and women working in this space. In my country we used to have women demining teams, they were just as competent if not better in the mine action operations, and bringing income to their families. This should be promoted. There should be competent people on this job and Sri Lankan women can be very competent in this task.
Q. A landmine costs only around US$ 3 to buy and set up, but in some cases can cost up to US$ 1,000 to remove. Many Third World countries cannot afford that kind of money. What are the mechanisms in place within UN for financing these de-mining operations as well as providing technical expertise?
A. In the Convention, it is an obligation on state parties who are in a position to support to extend support. But, it is not granted, there are obligations on the mine affected country as well. For instance, they must show transparency, proper reporting and some own investment to show their seriousness. And, also allocate correct human resources. Once the elements of ownership are there, there is a higher likelihood of support from the donor community and perhaps, the UN. A number of countries such as, South Korea and the United States who are not party to the Convention too extend donor assistance to mine action activity all over the world.
Q. What was the overall outcome of your discussions with Sri Lankan leaders and officials on de-mining ? Are you satisfied with Sri Lanka’s commitment to this process?
A. Yes, very much. My discussions with the President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister as well as the Minister of Prisons Reforms and Resettlement were very positive. I think, if Sri Lanka can continue on this upward trajectory, there will be success.
Difficulties are there, but it is important not to give up. It is not easy – there are so many variables evolved in mine action. But, as long as there is a will, I am sure Sri Lanka will be able to finish with the job and move onto other things with the exception of the support for survivors, which are a long term undertaking.
Q. You visited the rehabilitation centres for mine victims. Have you seen any shortcomings in this sector?
A. I visited the Jaffna rehabilitation centre. They are doing a splendid job with very little. The centre would appreciate more support from the community and international organizations and donor states.
The services they are providing need to be replicated in other parts of the region. A child having an amputation is most likely to need 30 prostheses through her life. The primary goal of any government is to safeguard lives and support its people. And afford the rights of citizens with disability.
Sri Lanka has now acceded to the CRPD – Convention on the Rights of the People with Disabilities – which covers practically all the issues and concerns of landmine victims. If there can be an emphasis on this Convention -, legislating the law, etc – it will go a long way in protecting their rights.
Pic by: Chinthaka Kumarasinghe