Seattle’s recent landmine conference was a meeting of the minds, a free exchange of ideas and, most importantly, a cry for help. On September 30th and October 1st of 2002, Rotary International, a worldwide network of volunteers and leaders dedicated to ethical and moral advancement, witnessed an enthusiastic outpouring by a wide variety of members of the mine action community. With special taped appearances by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Queen Noor Al-Hussein of Jordan—as well a speech by Special Representative of the President and Secretary of State for Mine Action Lincoln P. Bloomfield—the conference featured many high-profile mine action figures. According to Mr. Bloomfield, the two-day event was an opportunity to “create new cooperative initiatives to help make the world mine safe” by “bringing Rotarians from around the world together with mine action experts and non-governmental organizations [NGOs] that are already partnered with [the U.S. State Department].” Powell agreed; “this Seattle meeting can help to forge powerful public-private partnerships that save lives and bring new hope to men, women and children who live in mine-affected countries all across the globe.”
Opening the conference, Secretary of State Colin Powell achieved a delicate balance by stressing both mine action’s many successes and the need for more funding and support. Despite “concerted international action over the past decade” to reduce “landmine casualties worldwide from 26,000 per year to approximately 10,000 annually,” Powell emphasized “that millions of deadly landmines still remain buried, waiting to kill.” The challenge of ridding the world of landmines is finite and realistic. The task, however, will require dedication and persistence. Many of the attendees were also quick to point out that the world will probably never be mine-free; making the world mine safe, however, is a realistic and desirable goal.
Ken Rutherford, the double-amputee co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network, was on hand for the duration of the conference. His presence and words affirmed the tangible threat of mines and UXO. For Americans, it is easy to perceive the landmine menace as remote. For the millions of individuals living in mine-infested regions, however, the threat is horrifyingly real. Emanuel Alonso, who lost both of his hands in a landmine accident more than 20 years ago, provided living evidence of both human resilience and shocking tragedy. His first pair of prostheses lasted 17 years (a typical prosthesis should last no more than five years), but were eventually replaced by the Polus Center, a small charity that provides prostheses to landmine victims in Nicaragua.
Colin King, an International Landmine and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Consultant, was an articulate and reasonable presence throughout the conference. He pointed out, both formally and informally, that the landmine/UXO situation is a very complex and multi-dimensional problem. Subsequently, the landmine/UXO solution must be both complex and multi-dimensional. Lloyd Feinberg, the manager of the Leahy War Victims Fund, shared his view: “There are no silver bullets, there are no simple solutions.”
Networking and Information Exchange
Many of the mine action attendees used the conference not only to reach out to the interested Rotarians, but also to exchange ideas with each other. Brigadier General Paddy Blagden, a Mine Action Operations Expert, urged for increased integration of the various sectors of mine action. Users should be involved in development, and developers should be involved in use. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a visit is worth a thousand pictures,” he said.
A large variety of NGOs were on hand to share information, provide advice and converse with each other. From small grassroots-oriented NGOs such as the Cambodia-based Rehab Oriented Surgical Enablement (ROSE) Charities, to large-scale demining programs like Britain’s massive HALO Trust, virtually every aspect of mine action and victim assistance was represented. The Marshall Legacy Institute’s Mine Detection Dog Partnership Program gave a memorable demonstration of a dog in action; one of their endearing canines, Rosa, successfully found a mine hidden in an unidentified box of soil.
Although the ultimate aim of the conference was to harness the Rotarians’ vast expertise and charitable resources, a pleasant side-effect was the interaction of the other organizations present. There were ideas exchanged, partnerships discussed and plans made. On more than one occasion, NGOs found themselves with a common goal and able to form a synergistic relationship. With luck, this conference (and others like it) will bring a more cooperative attitude to the mine action community.
The Rotarians proved themselves to be knowledgeable and eager participants. Despite the intensity and duration of the proceedings (both days stretched well into the evening), presentations and information were greeted only with interest and respect. Clubs from across the world were represented, many in countries with existing landmine problems.
Frank O’Dea, Director of the Canadian Landmine Foundation, invited the Rotarians to participate in 2002’s Night of 1000 Dinners. This charity event, to be held on December 5th, is an opportunity for individuals around the world to come together and sponsor a dinner to raise money for minefield clearance. O’Dea’s impassioned speech was interrupted by applause on numerous occasions. The Night of 1000 Dinners is coordinated specifically with Rotary International; last year, Rotarians were among the most prolific contributors.
Naturally, many of the various Rotarians present had doubts and concerns about involvement in mine action. Despite the great care taken by the NGOs, the scope and urgency of the worldwide landmine/UXO problem can be daunting. The problem is not localized, homogenous or benign; it is widespread, varied and severe. In such situations, it is hard to know where to start, or whether it is even worthwhile to contribute.
Rotary International’s massive drive to eradicate polio, one of their most successful efforts, was a project with a definitive and realistic end-point. Mine action is patently different. Even the most optimistic expert admits that the world will probably never be mine-free. Furthermore, the radical degree to which the landmine problem varies from place to place makes the solution extremely complex. Nonetheless, the Rotarians’ doubts and concerns were appeased by the knowledge of the experts on hand. In fact, the very difficulty of the problem is what makes Rotary International so appropriate as a mine action partner. Far from mere cash cows, Rotarians are professional, political and academic authorities who have already contributed their knowledge and financial assistance to the cause of mine action.
Some of the Rotarians on hand for the event questioned the State Department’s commitment to humanitarian demining. One such individual was hesitant to lend financial assistance to the cause without the United States’ formal commitment to the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty. It seems that our government is unwilling to “set an example” for the private sector and for other countries, he complained.
Pat Patierno, among many other State Department and non-State Department related officials, was eager to respond, however. Mr. Patierno, the U.S. State Department’s Director of Humanitarian Demining Programs, first pointed out that the United States has in fact signed the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). He also explained that the United States will not sign the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty because of its omissions (specifically, it neglects anti-handling devices on anti-vehicle mines), not because of its restrictions.
More importantly, Colin King interjected, the United States’ failure to sign the Ottawa Treaty is irrelevant to the issue of mine action. Not only does the Treaty fail to address key issues, he said, but the U.S. State Department is by far the world’s leading financial contributor to humanitarian demining. Furthermore, Mr. King explained, the true problem is not the production of new mines but the removal of previously-deployed mines and the destruction of existing stockpiles. During the conference’s closing ceremonies, Dennis Barlow, Director of the MAIC, reiterated that the worldwide landmine crisis is “not a policy issue,” but instead is a pressing “humanitarian issue.”
If the goal was to bring Rotary International into the mine action community in order to innovate and cooperate, then the conference was a massive success. Not only were the Rotarians able to share their ideas and thoughts, but the mine action community was able to meet together on an unprecedented level. Many lessons were learned and plans established.
The problem is multi-faceted; there is no lack of worthy organizations in need of financial assistance and guidance. Rotarians, however, must be careful to learn as much about the various NGOs as they possibly can. Successful advocacy must come from both a grassroots “ground-up” movement and an administrative “top-down” campaign. Together with the U.S. Department of State and many dedicated humanitarian organizations, Rotary International can make an immediate and sustained impact on the effort to make the world mine safe. This conference ultimately exceeded even the most hopeful of expectations; the first step towards innovation and cooperation of various mine action sectors has been taken, and it was a giant leap.
*All photos courtesy of MAIC.