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Carrying the torch: towards the extinction of landmines

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - Switzerland - Tue, 13 Dec 2011 17:17 GMT
Author: Kinan Suchaovanich / ICRC
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Kinan Suchaovanich, Communication Officer with the International Committee of the Red Cross, recounts how passion and compassion drives the global movement to ban landmines.


Meeting rooms and conference halls are not usually the places where emotions run free. Official etiquettes dictate that feelings must be reigned in whether for mannerism or other hidden agendas.

But since the 11th annual meeting of state parties (11MSP) on Mine Ban Treaty in Phnom Penh, Cambodia ended, moments of sadness, joy and hope still made a lasting impression on me – after a week. As survivors and policymakers shared the same stage, the full gamut of emotions punctuated the officialese and diplomatic protocols.

"I am so proud of what we have done to move the world closer to an elimination of all mines," said Song Kosal, who greeted me and other participants one by one at the entrance of the Peace Palace where the week-long convention to map out the progress and plan to ban mines took place. Despite losing a leg from landmine, Kosal was a ball of energy, testament to her early involvement with the movement. "I was 11 years old when I went to Vienna [in 1995] to speak about the landmines," she told me, repeating her speech from last evening. Advocacy has come naturally to her. In the decade to come, Kosal would be raising awareness about the issue throughout the globe.

For Kosal and other survivors of mines and cluster munitions, the signing of the Ottawa Treaty in 1997 was a cathartic moment. "My English wasn't so good then and there were big crowds, but I remembered everyone was very happy," said Kosal, who is also the youth ambassador for International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). She is one of the many individuals at the forefront of the global movement that now have 158 state parties committed to stop using landmines and destroy all stockpiles.

"This is a moment of reckoning for many. Twenty years ago, people would have laughed if you said one day landmines would be obsolete," said Boris Cerina, Manager for the Weapon Contamination Programme at the ICRC. "Things come full circle in Cambodia. If anything, this treaty has successfully stigmatised landmines, shrinking its markets to just a few countries." I was following Boris around the Conventions most of the time, since he knew most people there. We met his colleagues and friends from around the globe – from Tajikistan to Slovenia, from Peru to Congo. It is a small community.

A good part of the day was spent in meeting halls and providing information to visitors to the ICRC booth, which have its limit in terms of the depth of interaction. My impression is that out of the formality and solemnity of the official meetings and greetings, people were excited to meet each other and catch up over coffee and meals in the dining areas and along the corridors.

The atmosphere was collegiate. Keo Phalla, who helps run the Cambodian government's Physical Rehabilitation Centre in Kampong Speu province, helped out at the ICRC booth. Phalla is very knowledgable about the ICRC's collaboration with Cambodia's Ministry of Social Welfare, Veterans, Youth and Rehabilitation (MoSVY). The ICRC supported two MoSVY-ran centres, which provide orthopedic assistance to survivors of mines, cluster munitions or disabling illnesses such as polio.

The event helps as a springboard too for the disabled, whose profiles have been raised by the media attention. "The disabled, in general, have been seen as a burden for society," said Eang Chan Dara, programme officer with Cambodian Disabled People's Organisation, who was the ICRC's neighbour at the exhibition hall. Over many chats, Dara, who is wheelchair-bound, shared that though the government has made much progressed policy wise – notably in the new design of the Peace Palace, which is disabled-friendly – the attitude of the people need to change too for any real development to take place. "We're making our way, slowly but surely."

The most invigorating part of the weeklong event was to be able to see the new generation picking up the batons. I stumbled into a side programme titled "Youth Leaders Forum 2011", which was not even on the official schedule, and sat in one of the sessions. Trainers got together leaders of various social organisations to share and learn. That particular session on result-based management (RBM) was about the different stages of planning, and how RBM can be incorporated into fundraising and strategy. This was heady stuff, but the participants took it in great stride.

During coffee break, Matthew Campbell, one of the trainers, explained to me how this group of young leaders were kept busy with stimulating case studies and activities such as organising an official dinner together complete with cultural shows (teambuilding and cross-cultural exercise).

Back in the room, a young Pakistani man gave a romping speech after small group discussions: "We're the young blood. And we have to carry this torch forward." The room roared in applauses.

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