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Mine Ban convention - "20 years of protection. Celebrating 20 years since the Mine Ban Treaty entered into force"

Keynote Speaker: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

1 March 2019, Palais des Nations

Excellencies,
Friends and colleagues,

I’m pleased to be with you today. 

I was a supporter of the Mine Ban Treaty long before I became High Commissioner for Human Rights. Like many Heads of State and Government around the world, I could see its immense value. It’s an unprecedented association between the UN, States and civil society organisations, and a key pillar of international disarmament and humanitarian law. I believed then, and I still believe now, that its focus on the protection, dignity and rights of individuals makes it one of the best examples of multilateralism. 

So we have a great deal to celebrate as we reflect on 20 years of progress: 164 States are Parties to the Treaty, 53 million destroyed landmines, many successful mine clearance operations, a significant slowing of landmine production and a virtual end to the trade, and a focus on the human rights of survivors. We also know there are countless people whose lives have NOT been cut short or subject to devastating change.

But we still have much to accomplish.  At least 56 States and four other areas were still believed to be contaminated by antipersonnel mines as of October 2018.

Landmines continue to kill, burn, and damage limbs and other body parts in horrific ways. They cause lifelong impairments, including visual and auditory impairments. They destroy livelihoods, hinder access to water, prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid, affect cultural practices and even impede national economic recovery. 

They generate fear. They force people to stop using agricultural and grazing lands, fishing jetties and paddy fields.  Or worse still, the circumstances of daily life force people to keep using these contaminated areas, creating a terrible lottery where treading a few centimetres one way or another means the difference between life and death, between good health and terrible injury. 

Children walking to or from school, playing, or helping with livestock or farming, can have their futures changed in an instant. 

Landmines mean that children born into peace are killed by war. 

Excellencies,

These weapons violate people’s fundamental rights to life, liberty and security. They breach social, economic and cultural rights for years, often for decades.  For all the achievements of the past 20 years, we still have a critical human rights and humanitarian mission to endtheir use, stockpiling, production and transfer. 

But before exploring the evolving and serious obstacles to progress, I’d like to reflect on the lessons we can learn from the remarkable achievement of the Treaty itself.

The Mine Ban Treaty is of historic significance not just for the good it has done, but for the way it came into being and for the human rights-centred approach that underpins it. 

From the earliest days of campaigning, civil society, like-minded States, United Nations agencies and international organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, determinedly pressed for action in a context where it was far from clear that an international consensus would be reached.  But their persistence was not in vain.

In 1997, the drafters of the Treaty brought together international human rights law, humanitarian law and disarmament in a single instrument – a unique and extraordinary achievement. Two years later, it became law.

Today, the Treaty is not only one of the most ratified disarmament conventions, but it has created an enduring belief that the use of landmines cannot be justified and they should never be deployed.  Put simply, it has changed international attitudes as well as international law.

Even more than that, it has shown unambiguously how an international convention can result in greater respect for, and protection of, fundamental rights. Its human rights-based approach is a key part of its legacy. It’s one of the first conventions to have recognised the rights of survivors with disabilities, recognising that the challenges they face must be addressed from a human rights perspective, and obliging States to provide the assistance they need. 

This perspective played an important part in the subsequent negotiation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the CRPD). The two conventions share a common purpose: to recognise the full inclusion and effective participation of all people with disabilities in the social, cultural, economic and political life of their communities.  

The specific measures provided for in the CRPD also help States understand their precise obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty, including ensuring that survivors have access to healthcare, rehabilitation, employment, social protection and education; and honouring the key principles of inclusion and participation. 

This symbiotic relationship between the two conventions has served to advance the human rights of all people with disabilities. It also highlights that human rights can be at the very heart of complex international instruments. 

Friends and colleagues,

Today, we celebrate this legacy: not just effective global action on landmines, but an immense contribution to global human rights and to the rights of people with disabilities.

But yes, we still have much work to do. Some of the gains of the past two decades risk being offset by a deeply concerning increase in the use of explosive ordnance by non-State groups, often in the form of improvised explosive devices or IEDs. This practice has been reported in at least eight countries: Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand and Yemen. In Afghanistan alone, in the eight years to 2016, pressure-plate IEDs killed 2,111 civilians and injured more than two-and-a-half-thousand others.

It is also a matter of deep regret that a handful of States may continue to make and trade in landmines; that there are others that have declined to rule out manufacturing them in the future; and indeed that there are States that have still not ratified the Treaty and retain huge stockpiles of these devastating weapons. 

Myanmar, which is not a party to the Treaty, is the only State for which new use of landmines has been confirmed. It used anti-personnel mines as recently as the period from October 2017 to October 2018, according to Landmine Monitor. We also know that the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, which has reported extensively on landmine casualties since August 2011, has found reasonable grounds to conclude that the Army planted mines in border regions and northern Rakhine State, with the intended or foreseeable consequence of injuring or killing Rohingya civilians fleeing to Bangladesh. The mission also concluded, and I quote: “It seems likely that new anti-personnel mines were placed in border areas as part of a deliberate and planned strategy of dissuading Rohingya refugees from attempting to return to Myanmar.”

Friends and colleagues,

No State – whether or not it is a party to the Mine Ban Treaty – has any justification for using these weapons. They are inherently indiscriminate and disproportionate. Their use violates international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and is never acceptable by any State, nor by any non-State actor.

Landmines do not distinguish between combatants and civilians. Between 70 and 85% of all the people they harm are civilians: children and adults, aid workers and peacekeepers, mine-clearers and journalists.

Their impact, however, is not the same for all groups in society. I’d like to highlight just a few of these areas, and States’ responsibilities to address them.

For example, men are more likely than women to be injured by landmines, and may face exclusion from their communities if they are unable to fulfil their traditional roles. Female survivors are more likely to be abandoned if they can no longer accomplish their conventional tasks within the family; they are also less likely to be able to access health services or decent work - leaving them at greater risk of poverty. States’ responsibilities in this area are clear: they must combat all gender-based discrimination, and ensure equality and inclusive policies for all people with disabilities.

Child survivors are disproportionately excluded from education because schools are inaccessible; and they may even be forced into institutions because families lack information and support. Again, States have a very clear human rights path to follow: they should guarantee inclusive education for all children with disabilities and ensure that their right to actively participate in the community is respected.

There is also a disproportionate impact on survivors in rural areas, where health and rehabilitation services may not be available: States will need to invest in community-based services in these areas to combat this inequality. 

In fact, the number of people killed and injured in remote locations may never be recorded, meaning that survivors cannot access the resources they need and the scale of the problem is not adequately measured. Disaggregated data is key to resolving these issues, as it is to many other human rights and development issues, and again this responsibility lies with States.

Finally, despite the severe financial impact experienced by many survivors, government policies merging social protection with reparation schemes often deprive them of the support they need. States must provide reparations AND equal social security to guard against this. 

Excellencies, 

I urge all States to honour their obligations to ensure inclusion and equality for survivors, in line with both the Mine Ban Treaty and the CRPD.

I’m delighted that my Office also plays a direct role in tackling some of the worst effects of landmines, including protecting the rights of people with disabilities, combating discrimination against them, and assisting with the implementation of the CRPD. 

It also regularly reports on the use of explosive ordnance in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Yemen; and supports independent investigatory mechanisms which have documented the use and impact of these terrible weapons.

Friends and colleagues,

All of us in this room today share a commitment to ending these human rights violations and abuses, whether at the international level or inch-by-inch on the ground in the minefields. We go forward into the next 20 years of the Treaty with a renewed commitment to all its provisions, and to ensuring that all survivors can fully enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with others. 

This Treaty can save lives, restore human dignity and empower all people to live full and productive lives. 

It is a positive human rights story, and a textbook example of the transformational power of passion, persuasion and partnership. 

But perhaps the greatest legacy of the Mine Ban Treaty is that it dares us to dream. It teaches us that today’s impossibility can be tomorrow’s reality; that today’s “normalised” human rights violations can be tomorrow’s stigmatised conduct. I hope this Treaty will inspire all our endeavours to deliver all human rights to all people around the world.

Thank you.