GENEVA, FEB. 15, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Holy See underlined the grave responsibility of those countries that have not adhered to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and called for mobilization to take care of the victims.
Based on his experience in Asia and Africa, where he has been in contact with victims of landmines, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, expressed the Vatican’s position at the first meeting of the Permanent Committee of Experts of the Convention on the Prohibition of Antipersonnel Mines, held Feb. 9-12.
Since the Ottawa Convention took effect five years ago, 141 states have signed the agreement and committed themselves not to use landmines at all, as well as to prohibit their production, storage and sale to other countries.
Today, 45 countries still have mines buried in their territory that threaten their civilian populations, the principal victims of this type of armament, according to the Red Cross.
In 2003, some 15,000 to 20,000 people died or were mutilated when stepping on landmines, the Red Cross stated. Almost a quarter of the victims (23%) were minors, and a great majority were women or small farmers. The cost for the rehabilitation of these people is enormous, whereas the cost to produce and place the mines is but a few dollars.
“The Holy See gives capital importance to the Ottawa Convention, to its implementation as a means of prevention, and to its requirement to assist victims of these dreadful weapons,” Archbishop Tomasi said.
“In fact, the central point of the convention is preventing that persons may become innocent victims of this vile, murderous and useless arm,” he added.
The archbishop continued: “And when there has been the lack of knowledge, of ability, or of will to take political decisions or practical measures to prevent production and dissemination of antipersonnel mines, national authorities and the international community have no right to avoid their respective responsibility for a comprehensive treatment of the tragic consequences mines cause.”
Moreover, the “victims of mines” must not also be made victims “of oblivion and discrimination or victims of a condescending type of assistance,” he said.
“Victims of antipersonnel mines are innocent witnesses of a wrong approach to security,” Archbishop Tomasi explained. “A large number of countries have realized that antipersonnel mines, besides their inhuman and devastating effects in the long run, are a useless arm. They give the illusion of an artificial security.”
“The greatest risk is the temptation of discouragement before the enormity of the task,” he said. “Neither the destruction of the stocks nor de-mining challenges should make us forget the victims who will need a sustained national commitment and an always renewed international solidarity for some long years.”
The first review conference of the Ottawa Convention will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3. Primary attention will have to be given to “the difficult situation and the program of assistance to victims of antipersonnel mines,” Archbishop Tomasi concluded.