Public Hearing Committee on Development and Cooperation
Committe on Foreign Affairs, Security and Defense Policy
European Parliament, Brussels 21-22 March 1995
Statement by Ms Emma Bonino, member of the European Commission, responsible for Humanitarian Affairs
You and the Parliament's rapporteurs, Mr Cunningham and Mr Bertens, have eloquently described the carnage that anti-personnel mines inflict everyday on innocent sufferers throughout the conflict zones of the world. It is the non-combatants who suffer. In particular, as we all know, children are the primary victims of these hidden killers.
With well over 100 million anti-personnel mines laid and with more being added each month, the international community faces a daunting task of choice. The proven techniques of mine clearance are slow, labour-intensive and dangerous. Their cost is high: between 200 and 1000 dollars for each mine, so that clearing those mines already in place may well cost tens of billions of dollars. Before these figures, I often wonder whether it should not apply the same principle as "the polluter pays" - namely "the mine exporter pays".
Within the international community increasing attention is being paid to this humanitarian scourge as witnessed by last year's United Nations General Assembly Resolution in the promotion of which the European Union played a key role.
Two thrusts of policy concern us:
- stopping the further manufacture and proliferation of these vile weapons;
- improving efforts to clear them.
As for the first point, let me just state my personal view based on my past experience as Member of the Italian Parliament: the most comprehensive measures to halt the production and transfer of any kind of anti-personnel mines are entirely within the realm of the feasible. The conversion of the few hundreds of workers who may depend on anti-personnel mine production and export is affordable by any country determined to do that.
And while I am sure that there are other means to fulfill any defensive mission currently assigned to these weapons, those countries that nevertheless see mines as essential to their defensive posture have no compelling need to transfer them abroad.
All the more so, since "abroad" often means not so much responsible governments parties to the inhumane weapons convention but warring factions at sub-national level which indulge in indiscriminate use of anti-personel mines.
But these are, as I said, my personal convictions.
Within the framework of the Common Foreign and European Policy the Commission is working with Member States in Council to develop a moratorium on export of anti-personnel mines and to find ways of contributing further to international efforts at mine-clearance. The Commission will pursue such efforts with energy and together with my colleagues responsible for other aspects of external affairs, we will monitor and encourage progress.
But it is not just some countries of the European Union who manufacture these engines of death and invalidity. Something in region of 80 to 100 manufacturers in 40 to 50 states around the world are involved in the production of anti-personnel mines. Worse still, it needs little sophistication, equipment and capital to manufacture these things on virtually a cottage industry scale. But - and I stress this - it is within our power to curb manufacture within the Union, and exports from it, and to encourage like-minded allies to do so. We must thus set an example and show that trade in these things and in the lives of their victims is not compatible with pretention to count among the civilised societies of the world.
At the conference on anti-personnel mines called by the United Nations in Geneva this coming July the Member States of the European Union must deliver a clear message about their readiness to stop supplying these abominable weapons.
We must also be ready to announce our contribution towards reducing the threat of existing mines and promoting sensible mine-clearance efforts.
I must admit that our efforts so far have been often fragmentary. Where my own responsibilities are concerned, ECHO has been mandated to promote mine clearance where the existence of mines has been an obstacle to pursuing humanitarian relief work. In the past this has been the case in Afghanistan, Mozambique, Somalia and Cambodia, for instance.
ECHO has also intervened where no other Commission service has promoted operations on the ground; this has been most notably the case in northern Iraq where we continue to fund mine clearance programmes. These mines were mainly left over from the Iran-Iraq war.
In the bulk of cases it has been clearly established that mine-clearance is essentially a task that can only be properly undertaken in areas where conflict has ceased, where no new mines are being laid and where minimum operational security conditions for mine-clearers are present.
In other words - conditions where mine-clearance becomes an essential prelude to rehabilitation and to revival of the development process. This becomes clearly the responsibility of our development colleagues who are seeking to build mine-clearance components more systematically into their rehabilitation and development programmes according to regions of geographical responsibility.
Irrespective of whose specific responsibility mine-clearance is in a given situation, two important aspects need to be stressed.
Firstly, a tightening of the links between those who can contribute to the international effort.
Inside the Commission my colleagues and I are looking more closely at ensuring the coherence of our efforts [and to creating an appropriate focal point].
With the Member States the Commission is promoting a solid preparation of the contribution of the Union to the forthcoming Geneva Conference, and above all pressing for more concerted use of joint efforts and capacities in this field of endeavour].
Commission services have already worked well with the few NGOs that can demonstrate special expertise in mine clearance. We want to pursue and further develop this cooperation with them and also with such bodies as the International Committee for the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees which have authority in this area. We trust that before the Geneva conference the modalities for coordination with the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs which has been entrusted by the General Assembly to function as focal point in mine-clearance activities within the Un system, will be clarified..
Secondly, we must look much more carefully at the management and coordination of mine-clearance work. We have already learned a few lessons.
We have seen that it is an activity which can attract mercenary cowboys - often the sort of people responsible for supplying and even laying mines in the first place and who are only interested in milking donor funds. These need to be recognised and avoided.
Because of the enormity of the task it is also important to create indigenous capacities and motivation for mine-clearance. Some commercial companies have neither the skills to create such indigenous capacities, nor - worse still - the interest in doing so. It is precisely for these reasons that it may be worthwhile to explore, in conjunction with the Western European Union, whether ECHO-financed mine-clearance missions can be assigned to military units of EU member states.
We need to develop clearer disciplines for identifying mine-clearance priorities, procedures and management, performance measurement - and the many other components of providing an effective response with finite human, technical and financial resources.
The Commission's Joint Research Centre is exploring and promoting techniques of more efficient, safe and credible mine-clearance and is currently engaged in a study on progress in mine-detection techniques in order to focus its own future efforts most usefully.
Elsewhere in the Commission we are commissioning studies of how the various management aspects that I have mentioned can be carried out more efficiently.
It is not a question of re-inventing the wheel. The international community is steadily developing experience and expertise with mine clearance. The challenge is to pull all that together into a more coherent effort.
On a closing note, I spoke a moment ago of the need to ensure that mine clearance is not only efficient but also safe and credible. Before a peasant tries to work his land or his rice paddy again, he needs to be absolutely sure that an area declared clear of mines really is clear. Any result that is less than one hundred percent will not do. It remains a painstaking and dangerous business.
We must learn to suppress our natural frustration before a task which human wilfulness in indiscriminate mine-laying in the first place, and real technical, natural, and human limits, render long and arduous. And the best way to suppress our frustration is to redouble our diplomatic, economic and humanitarian efforts to free the world from this deadly scourge.
As you all know, a horrible nightmare suddenly turned real yesterday in Tokyo: innocent people going to their working places were killed or severely injured by a chemical agent. To the best of my of knowledge this is the first istance in which a terrorist group has made use of a weapon of mass destruction. Although many will certainly rush to tell you that there is little we can do to prevent these crimes, I remain convinced that a quick entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention is now more important than ever as a clear signal of the international community's determination to eradicate these weapons from the face of the world. Quite simply, I believe that we owe it to the Tokyo victims.
Every day tens of innocents throughout the world are killed or maimed by anti-personnel mines. We certainly owe to these victims the same degree of determination.