Fighting Landmines: Progress Made, but More Funding Needed, Say NGOs

20th anniversary conference on anti-landmine treaty highlights need for sustained commitment
By Susan Korah, Special to The Epoch Times
December 7, 2017 6:16 am Last Updated: December 7, 2017 6:20 am

OTTAWA—An anniversary celebration conference on the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, also known as the Ottawa Treaty, garnered high praise for Canada’s stellar role in convincing 122 countries to sign it 20 years ago.

On Dec. 4, landmine activists from around the world gathered in Ottawa to mark the anniversary of the signing ceremony on Dec. 3, 1997.

“The Ottawa Treaty is working, and Canada is one of the top ten donors to the work of de-mining and of rehabilitating people injured by these deadly weapons,” said Chris Loughran, director of policy and evaluation with Mines Advisory Group, an international NGO that removes and destroys landmines around the world.

Representatives of some other NGOs involved in de-mining operations, however, were less enthusiastic about Canada’s ongoing commitment.

A funding announcement by Global Affairs Canada drew a mixed response. Keynote speaker Matt DeCourcey, Parliamentary Secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said he has allocated $12 million for the rehabilitation and re-integration of mine explosion survivors into their communities.

Erin Hunt, program officer with Mines Action Canada of Ottawa, expressed disappointment with the amount. “The 12 million announced today is a slight increase in Canada’s contribution, but it’s still not sufficient,” she said.

“Canadian funding should increase to previous levels of $1 per Canadian per year which would place Canada in the top five global donors to mine actions,” said Paul Hannon, executive director of Mines Action Canada.

Major-General James Cowan, CEO of Halo Trust, the world’s largest humanitarian mine clearance organization, said 80 percent of Halo Trust’s funding comes from governments.

“The U.S., U.K., and Canada have been generous in the past, but now there’s uncertainty around that,” he said.

Christoph Harnisch, leader of the delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross, echoed the theme of sustained commitment.

“Countries like Colombia would need 30-40 years’ engagement to end de-mining operations,” he said.

Harnisch noted, however, that this should not be entirely the responsibility of traditional donor governments, and that those who were engaged in the conflict should also be held accountable.

Women, girls disproportionately impacted

All signatories of the Ottawa Treaty (now 162 countries) are obligated to not only clear landmines and destroy stockpiles but also to assist victims—many of whom are women and girls.

“Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by landmines and other explosive remnants of war,” said Paul Hannon, executive director of Mines Action Canada. “It’s significant that the movement to ban landmines has been led by women since the 1990s.”

Liberal MP Pam Damoff called attention to the Elsie Initiative on Women in Peace Operations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced recently. The initiative, named after Canadian women’s rights pioneer Elsie MacGill (1905-1980), aims at supporting more women to become engaged in peace processes.

“When women become part of conflict resolution, peace becomes more durable,” she said.

Shinkai Karokhail, Ambassador of Afghanistan to Canada, said that while donating to de-mining in her country—said to be the most landmine-infested in the world—Canada must ensure that some funds are specifically allocated for women victims. This is particularly necessary in a country where women seldom have any voice in decision-making, she noted.

Aidé Rocio Arias of Colombia shares the story of how she lost both legs in a landmine explosion. She now uses prosthetic legs and works as a counsellor to support similar victims. (Susan Korah)

Survivors share experiences

Two landmine victims, one from Colombia and the other from Sri Lanka, shared their stories, both emphasizing the need for sustained funding and for specific assistance to women victims.

Aidé Rocio Arias, 23, an indigenous woman from a remote community in Colombia, lost both legs in a landmine accident when she was 13 years old. This required blood transfusions, amputations, prolonged treatment, prosthetics, and rehabilitation, all of which her family could only afford with the assistance of Handicap International and the Red Cross.

Since then Arias has been trained as a counsellor to support similar victims. She also has had a son. “He’s my greatest reason to keep going,” she said with a broad smile.

Krishnaveni Kaneshan, a Sri Lankan who lost many male family members in her country’s civil war, initially worked as a hands-on de-miner and is now a trainer for Halo Trust. She praised the organization for employing female staff in a country where women often have to resort to illegal activities to support their families.

Krishnaveni Kaneshan of Sri Lanka (L), who works for international mine clearance NGO HALO Trust, and Alexander Thoric of Ukraine, a former military engineer in Ukraine who works as a de-miner, at the Ottawa Treaty 20th anniversary conference in Ottawa on Dec. 4, 2017. (Susan Korah)

Susan Korah is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa. She has a Master of Journalism degree from Carleton University and writes on Canadian and international politics as well as travel and lifestyle.