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Lessons from a violent past

Lessons from a violent past

Cambodia has cleared much of its countryside of land mines, and it continues to assist other nations in the removal of the indiscriminately destructive devices

A STATUE in front of the UN headquarters in New York depicts swords that have been remoulded into ploughshares, a metaphor for the instruments of war being turned into instruments of peace. Similarly, Cambodia continues to suffer from the effects of millions of land mines. Yet from those terrible instruments of war, brave Cambodians have developed skills in demining that they have taken abroad as UN peacekeepers, working to ensure that their fellow human beings do not suffer from land-mine accidents.

On May 29, the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, we will honour the sacrifices of the men and women who lost their lives while serving under the UN flag, and salute those who are serving throughout the world. Over the course of UN peacekeeping’s more than 60-year history, violence, accidents and disease have cost the lives of more than 2,700 individuals working in hot spots around the world, from the Middle East to the Balkans, Africa and beyond.

The courage and dedication of more than 122,000 active UN peacekeepers – military, police and civilian personnel who serve with distinction – directly helps millions of people. Peacekeepers provide security and promote reconciliation, clear land mines and demobilise combatants, strengthen institutions and the rule of law, deliver aid and repatriate refugees and displaced persons, support democratic elections, reform the security sector, and so much more.

Cambodia has learned from its difficult past and turned those lessons into humanitarian action to serve the people of the world. Since 2006, more than 400 Cambodian personnel have served as peacekeepers in Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic, becoming a part of the UN family in the service of humanity.

Cambodia can be proud of the changes that have made this possible. It is remarkable to see the transition this country has made from being both a focus of UN peacekeeping and one of the countries most affected by mines to becoming one of the global leaders in mine clearance among the UN peacekeepers.

We applaud Cambodia’s dedication to providing assistance abroad, to sharing their skills and experience with countries that are still struggling to rid themselves of the scourge of land mines.

Cambodia still suffers from millions of land mines. The country’s deminers have developed their skills in these surroundings because they believe that their fellow human beings should not suffer from land-mine accidents.

It is no coincidence that the most land mine-contaminated areas are also among the poorest. Mine clearance is essential for basic activities such as raising crops, and building houses and roads. Without mine clearance, productive land lies fallow while families struggle to get by, and access to markets and services is limited by roads that may be deadly. Skills built out of such necessity have become a highly valued asset.

The Cambodian Millennium Development Goals include one that is unique to this country. The government recognised that land mines and UXO present significant challenges to poverty reduction and added to their goals CMDG9: landmines, UXO and victim assistance. Government’s commitment to clearing the country of the explosive remnants of war, as well as to achieving the goals of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, is commendable. Hundreds of square kilometres have been cleared in the past 17 years, bringing new hope to those communities.

I would also like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation for the Royal government’s commitment to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. As one of the countries most affected by contamination from unexploded cluster munitions, Cambodia was an early and prominent proponent of the “Oslo Process” to negotiate the convention and took a lead in rallying support for it.

The convention prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions. The convention was adopted in Dublin by 107 states on May 30, 2008, and signed on December 3 the same year. The convention will become binding international law when it enters into force on August1, 2010.

Although the extent of contamination has yet to be fully determined, US bombing in the 1960s and ’70s is estimated to have left millions of remnants of cluster munitions in the country, mostly in the southeast and the sparsely populated northeast, along the border with Vietnam.

Cambodia’s people know firsthand the devastating legacy of cluster bomb munitions. These weapons are indiscriminate in choosing their targets.

In Cambodia, most victims are civilians, critically injured or killed by weapons dropped on Cambodia three decades ago that continue to cause harm today. And the repercussions are felt not only by the individual, but by their families, their friends and their communities, long after the initial impact.

Lao PDR, the most heavily bombed country in the world, has ratified the vonvention and will host the first meeting of states parties from November 8-12. We stand ready to provide assistance to Cambodia to facilitate its entry as signatory to the convention.

Through its peacekeeping and demining work, Cambodia has provided a positive example in one of the key activities of the UN. Peacekeeping, alongside the conventions that protect civilians, is an indispensable part of the UN’s work for a better world. The UN and the world are grateful to the government and the people of Cambodia for giving it the support it needs to succeed.

Douglas Broderick is the resident coordinator in Cambodia for the UN Development Programme.


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