In-depth: Laying Landmines to Rest? Humanitarian Mine Action

AFRICA-ASIA: Interview with Ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch

Photo: IRIN
Ambassador Petritsch in Cyprus Dec 2003
NAIROBI, 1 November 2004 (IRIN) - In this telephone interview with IRIN the President-Designate of the Nairobi Summit, and Austria's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, emphasizes the unique partnership of forces between civil society and governments that made the Ottawa Treaty (Mine Ban Treaty) possible and continues to drive the successful monitoring and implementation of the Treaty's commitments. His outlook for the summit and the future in relation to humanitarian mine action is explicitly optimistic concluding that the Treaty really has dealt an effective death-blow to the anti-personnel landmine and its murderous impact around the world.

QUESTION: How did it come about that Kenya was chosen for the summit location?

ANSWER: The State Parties were keen to have the review conference in a region of the world affected by mines and Africa is, as a region, the most mine-infested region globally. There were several countries in Europe and North America vying to hold the conference but Kenya was selected by the members themselves.

Q: Why will the conference attract such senior diplomats; why are governments so particularly interested in the Mines Ban Treaty (MBT)?

A: There are not too many disarmament treaties that are working in the way that the MBT is working. It's a success story with immediate humanitarian and disarmament aspects combined, and I think it is this that will bring so many high ranking representatives to Nairobi. In fact it is crucial for this to happen … the next 5 years will be critical and will represent important breakthroughs. We need a new way to push forward; demining needs to be pushed forward both financially and politically. Also victim assistance and stockpile destruction of mines as an important preventative measure in order to save future lives. We have to avoid the sky-rocketing costs of demining as well and stockpile destruction is a preventative way of avoiding future costs.

Q: To what extent is the high level of adherence and implementation of the MBT a result of the activities of the International Campaign to ban Landmines (ICBL) and the Landmines Monitor publications for example? Do you see their activities as keeping the mines issue on the agenda and exposing non-adherence?

A: For me, definitely. It signifies a new kind of diplomacy; public diplomacy represented through this private/public partnership. Interestingly the control the civil society has exerted through this partnership has been more effective than any coercive approach. This part has been critical to the success of the Treaty where the civil groups and NGOs have been working on a par with the States Parties in driving the issues forward. The main advantage, I would say, of this partnership has been the fact that more coercive methods were not needed and instead the ICBL with their monitors in numerous countries and the media as well have provided the control needed.

Q: Most demining operators would argue that 2009 is entirely unrealistic as a deadline for demining activities globally. Do you agree with this and how will the summit in Nairobi address this perception?

A: We are going to cross the bridge in Nairobi … the bridge between the first five years and the next five years of the Treaty. For most States Parties the 2009 deadline will not be a problem but for some mine affected States Parties it will definitely be a problem. I would still not say it is unrealistic but a challenge to meet the deadline … not just for certain mine affected States Parties but also for donor countries as well. Its very important for the affected countries to have National Plans of action and to bring them to the conference and to use the conference as a springboard for soliciting assistance and support from donor countries. In so far that affected countries use the conference in this way will be a clear indication of how seriously they take the matter in their own country.

Q: There are critics of the Treaty who say that landmines victims have been quite neglected throughout the process. How true is this and will the Nairobi summit address is perceived failing?

A: Victim assistance is one of the core areas of the issues to be discussed at the summit which shows that it is at the centre of our concerns. Particularly as it is a human security issue … I mean the Treaty is both a disarmament treaty but also addresses the plight of the human victims of landmines. As such it is the first disarmament convention to do so. Furthermore it stipulates a responsibility to provide assistance to victims. This too is a new development in international law that illustrates the inventiveness and creativity of this new kind of disarmament diplomacy.

Q: Is the Nairobi Summit in fact a high-level diplomatic talk-shop or do you foresee concrete results deriving from the meeting?

A: There is of course always a danger that meetings at this level can become diplomatic talk shops, but not in this case. We expect that a very substantive action plan will result from the conference. An action plan has already been drawn up with 70 specific action points for States Parties to adopt and implement in the next 5 years. These action points were developed during the intensive preparatory phase over recent months which included extensive consultation around the world. Government representatives coming to the summit already know what to expect because the whole process has been very transparent. I am confident that all the points of the action plan will be firmly adopted.

Q: In the 14 months since you have been designated president of this review conference are their some particular aspects of the campaign and the treaty that stand out or which have impressed you personally?

A: During my time in the Balkans, I have witnessed the tragedies of new victims, children in particular, long after hostilities have ended. This personal commitment is from having seen victims of landmines on a weekly basis, in real time, and in real situations. Concerning the Campaign I have been very impressed by the way NGOs and civil society have worked and the way governments have opened up to civil society. Basically the issue of landmines is all about people, real people and about how we can work together to avoid future mine victims. What is remarkable is to see the changed level of behaviour worldwide as a result of the Campaign and Treaty … in relation to landmines the international behavioural norm has spread far beyond the 143 member states. Even among non-signatories mines have become less acceptable and we see levels of use and production reducing dramatically worldwide. A real change in attitude has taken place-and this is remarkable. We are really on the way to altogether ban and eliminate one kind of vicious weapon from the earth.
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A special thanks to the Mines Advisory Group and Sean Sutton for generous use of their excellent photos used extensively in this report.
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