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Statement of H.E. Archbishop Renato R. MARTINO
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
to the United Nations
before the Plenary of the General Assembly
in its 54th Session
on Item 35

Assistance in Mine Action

New York, 19 November 1999

Mr. President,

On 28 February 1999, the eve of the entry into force of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Landmines, Pope John Paul II said:

"Tomorrow, March 1, the Convention which bans anti-personnel mines and orders their destruction will come into effect. For the entire community this is a goal which marks a victory of the culture of life over the culture of death. The Holy See has, right from the start, shown its adherence, signing and ratifying the Ottawa document of December 4, 1997.

For the world to be free from these terrible and treacherous weapons, the path is, unfortunately, still long. I pray God to give everyone the courage of peace, so that the countries which have not yet signed this important instrument of international law might do so without delay, and that they might continue perseveringly in the work of getting rid of mines and of rehabilitating the wounded. May people walk together in the paths of life, without fearing the hidden dangers of destruction and death!"(1)

The first step, that can and must be taken by all, is to stop immediately any use of landmines. The adoption of the Convention and its rapid entry into force are indicative of the moral determination, not only of States but also of the peoples of the world, to eliminate these insidious weapons. It is, therefore, an unbelievable and inhuman paradox that mines are still being laid, even in places where they had already been cleared.(2)

The Convention obliges the State Parties to clear the mines laid on their territory. Only then will the many people who live in mined areas be free to carry out their daily lives without fear of injury or death, without fear for the future of their children. Many of the most mine-affected countries will continue to need financial help for mine clearance for many years ahead. If the very purpose of the Convention is to eliminate all landmines, mine clearance must remain a priority. This obviously includes the training of local personnel and the on-going development of effective means for mine detection and clearance that are adapted to varying local situations.

Mine clearance is also an effective step towards the integral social and economic development of the afflicted countries. This broader aspect cannot be overlooked. Consequently, funding for mine clearance must become and remain an integral part of the aid and development programs of both donor and afflicted States. This requires long-term planning and commitment, keeping in mind that the lives of people and the future well-being of entire regions are at stake.

Assistance to mine victims is another essential step along the path to a peaceful world. The humanitarian orientation of the Convention must assure that such a priority remains before the public conscience. Mine victims, far-too-many of whom are children, have very special long-term needs which must be met in view of their full reinsertion into society and their own contribution to the common good. But mine victims are not alone. They are also part of a larger picture: the family and the society. Countries that have been torn apart by conflict are alone unable to provide the basic healthcare needs of the affected.

Assistance given by donor countries for mine clearance and for mine victims is a concrete expression of that solidarity which is the very basis of peaceful international relations.

Many other questions remain open: the production, stockpiling and trafficking of landmines, as well as their destruction. As long as mines are produced and stockpiled they risk being used. The problem of the illegal trade in landmines is a further threat.

Finally, the goal set out by the Convention cannot be realized until it becomes universal. The will of the vast majority of States and of the peoples of the world is clear in this regard. It is urgent therefore to ask those States who have not yet acceded to or ratified the Convention to weigh carefully the consequences of their delay. The Holy See would equally urge progress within the Conference on Disarmament on measures for the ban on the transfer of landmines.

Mr. President,

It is clear that the need to eliminate landmines cannot be cast merely in political terms. It is a moral question that affects almost every aspect of the life of the afflicted countries which often are among the poorer countries. Landmines are both the seeds and fruit of war. They also set up barriers between peoples, between States. They set back the cause of development and affect the very life and dignity of countless people.

The Holy See will continue to attach great importance to the total elimination of landmines and to the need for on-going help for those who have been their victims. Landmines are small weapons, still they are, indeed, capable of blocking the path to true peace and development for countless peoples.

Thank you, Mr. President.

(1)Pope John Paul II, Angelus, 28 February 1999.

(2)Pope John Paul II, 1999 World Day of Peace Message, N. 11.