"PEOPLE power" will bring about a universal ban on land mines, not negotiations
by diplomats, says Sister Denise Coghlan, who chairs the Cambodian chapter of the
International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
Coglan is now leading a delegation of five Cambodian amputees in Switzerland, attending
a ten-day international conference where 40 countries are reviewing the 1980 Conventional
Weapons Convention (CWC).
Coghlan, who heads the Jesuit Service-Cambodia, said in a statement faxed to The
Post from Geneva: "We are pessimistic about the review process. But we are very
optimistic about the people power behind the movement to bring about a universal
ban on land mines."
"The negotiations between diplomats here are happening inside a glass house,
in a city where one meal costs much more than the salary of one Cambodian government
"Their only touch with reality is the sight of the amputees from Cambodia and
Mozambique, but at least the poorer countries recognize this reality."
Before Coghlan and the Cambodian delegation left for Geneva on Apr 21, at Pochentong
airport they discussed what they hoped to bring back.
"What we are hoping for is that the countries attending the conference will
decide to ban landmines," said Coghlan.
"Now, we've got 29 countries which have called for the total ban. The last to
do so - just this week - were Germany (a former producer of landmines) and Australia."
At press time, Liechtenstein became the thirtieth country to add its name to the
list which, three years ago, was non-existent.
Members of the group said they hoped that the conference would lead to a revision
of the 1980 convention so that its provisions on land mines would apply to civil
wars, not just wars between nations.
They added that ICBL was determined to persuade the leaders of the great powers to
do away with all forms of anti-personnel mines, and to convince them to launch a
comprehensive ban without delay.
Britain and the United States, for instance, have respectively proposed that "smart"
self-destruct mines be used instead and that a 14-year phase-out period for APMs
The delegation flew away armed with a 187,000 signature petition collected since
the first round of the review conference, in Vienna last September. More than 485,000
Cambodians had now signed the petition to ban APMs, said Sok Eng, the coordinator
for the local campaign.
At Geneva, throughout the first five days, the Cambodian amputees made their presence
felt, Coghlan said.
On Apr 23, they handed out 13,700 roses. Each bore the name of those around the globe
who had been killed by mines, since the Vienna session broke up on Oct 13.
The Cambodians also took part in the unveiling of "The Wall of Remembrance",
a photographic exhibition which commemorates those victims.
Speaking at the ceremony marking this occasion, Tun Channareth appealed to rich countries
to consider the effects of landmines in poor countries and to promptly implement
"If you don't ban land mines soon, in the next 50 years my country will be entirely
full of disabled people."
Bjorn Ljungqvist, UNICEF's Cambodian country representative, said he did not believe
the Geneva meeting would lead to an international ban on the production, sale, transfer,
stockpiling, and deployment of APMs. However, in his view, the work of citizen-based
movements such as ICBL was important in focusing worldwide attention on how mines
affect children everywhere.
"Of all the weapons that have accumulated over years of war, few are more persistent
and more lethal to children than land mines," he said.
According to a new study undertaken by UNICEF, for each Cambodian child there are
at least two land mines. At least 20 percent of children who step on mines will die.
Friedrun Medert, country representative of the International Committee for the Red
Cross (ICRC), said: "I would hope that they will achieve a universal ban on
land mines, but, unfortunately, I'm not very optimistic. What I think is good about
this conference - and that's very personal - is that it has brought back the issue
of landmines to the minds of people all over the world."
"When you think that the first leg of the conference took place in September-October
of last year, where only nine countries supported the total ban on landmines. Now,
there are already 30."
"The International Committee of the Red Cross is the guardian of international
humanitarian law. This is mainly embodied in the four Geneva conventions. One of
the basic rules of these conventions - and 186 states are parties to this convention
- says that at all times there must be a difference made between combatants and non-combatants.
Mines do not make this difference."
"Officially Cambodia has joined the list of countries that support a ban on
land mines. We welcome this very much, but we understand that more has to be done.
It is not enough to make a statement. We recommend, for example, that existing stocks
should be destroyed. National legislation banning the use of landmines should also
An ICRC-commissioned study - the first of its kind - into the effectiveness of APMs
in warfare and their impact on civilian life says: "Mines were used in all phases
of the wars in Indochina. Initially laid by the French forces, they were later dropped
from the air by the US Air Force in support of ground troops. Neither the French,
North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, Americans or Australians kept full records of
their minefields... In general, mines were not marked, especially the many tons of
mines and sub-munitions dropped on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam, Cambodia, and
"Government calls for bans on landmines and the destruction of mine stocks have
coincided with... laborious clearance by humanitarian organizations. Despite the
recent restoration of peace, both the government and the Khmer Rouge have apparently
continued mining. There has been a reported increase in the number of casualties
in 1994 as compared with 1991."
The ICRC report concludes: "The limited military utility of Anti-Personnel mines
is far outweighed by the appalling humanitarian consequences of their use in actual
conflicts. On this basis their prohibition and elimination should be pursued as a
matter of utmost urgency by governments and the entire international community.