I N a surprise move, the Royal Government has made a pledge to outlaw the use of land mines in Cambodia.
In presenting the Government's position paper on mines at an international conference on Aug 11, chairman of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, Ieng Mouly, declared Cambodia would outlaw "these man-made callous, blind killers".
"The government will legislate a ban on land mines in Cambodia and requests all land mine producing countries to stop exporting, through purchase or donation, any land mines to Cambodia.
"The government is convinced there is no justification whatsoever for the use of land mines," he told a 12-day conference in Geneva.
"Land mines are a man-made disaster, a man-made pollution rendering vast lands unusable. Land mines destroy the economic potential of victim countries like Cambodia (and) are one of the serious obstacles if not the most serious obstacle to the current efforts of the Government to rebuild the country," he said.
"Land mines kill or maim young, old, women and men alike. They kill off their hopes, ostracize them socially, kill off their longing to have families, break up their marriages, make them social outcasts, turn them into loners," he told the conference, organized by the UN's Department of Disarmament.
In the position paper, Cambodia also called on "its neighbors" to refrain from serving as conduits for land mines to the Khmer Rouge.
Mouly, who is also Information Minister, told the conference that until the legislation is passed the Government's strategies included:
- Designating demining sites as "no conflict zones" where re-mining would be a crime;
- Ensuring new minefields are recorded and marked according to a set procedure; and
- Legislating against the sale of mines to civilians.
After the conference, which ended on Aug 19, Mouly said the government's paper was well received, especially by Germany, Sweden and Australia. "It's what they needed, victim countries to speak out about mines so they can put pressure on the others to have restrictions on mines. Countries who are victims should get together and speak out about our problems, to have a common stand," he said.
The Cambodian Government's pledge to outlaw the use of mines follows the British Government's July 27 declaration that it would ban the export of non self-destructive or self-neutralizing mines.
The UK ban was a step in the right direction but did not go far enough, the UN's Special Representative on Human Rights, Justice Michael Kirby, told a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club.
Kirby endorsed a statement from CMAC, ICRC, Halo Trust, the Mine Action Group, Handicap International and VVAF which calls on the Government to declare a total and permanent ban on the import, stockpiling and use of mines, and to destroy all existing stockpiles of mines.
"If mines are to continue to be used, they should be laid in patterns which are clearly mapped, marked and recorded [and] the Government should outlaw the possession and use of mines by non-military people," the statement dated July 28 says.
"We must replace the callousness, the acceptance, the indifference of the suffering. It is intolerable suffering, and when you see it reduced to human form and see what profound affect it has on a fellow human being you realize we must do something, we must not just accept," said Kirby.
The Human Rights envoy said the most graphic image from his third trip to Cambodia was of a young man lying on a hospital bed with both arms missing, blind in one eye, and nursing a virtually useless leg.
"Standing by him in his predicament, the reality of land mines in Cambodia was brought home to me. Until this visit [mines] was very largely an issue on paper. I saw the amputee at the market and in the street, and I was told of the work of CMAC and other heroic organizations working on land mine clearance but it was to some extent a theoretical problem for me - statistic, paper reports. Suddenly I was brought face to face with the reality. There was a man of 28, his life changed.
"He is but one of 10 people a day, on estimate, who suffer in a similar way in this country," said Kirby.