Media Center



December 2, 1997 - Ottawa, Canada

Let me begin by expressing my gratitude for the hospitality of the Canadian Government and the City of Ottawa. Together they have presented the signatory countries and all other delegations here with a most welcoming setting for this important meeting.

This is, of course, a reflection of the leadership that Canada has shown all over the world in promoting the cause of peace among nations - a leadership that, along with that of Norway, Belgium, South Africa and Austria, has provided the indispensable driving force behind the mine prohibition effort throughout the world.

I want to pay special tribute to Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy, who has set an example that is an inspiration to us all.

Today, in speaking of the subject of anti personnel mines, I am thinking, first of all, about people. About the hundreds and thousands of victims of these deadly devices.

Presentación Florián, who lived in Mozote, a town in Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua, is one such person. One day not long ago, Presentacion went out as he did every day to work in the fields - but he never came home. After four days, his wife set off looking for him. Six days later they found him, in the mountains - dead. He had bled to death, alone, with a tourniquet wrapped around the stump of his leg, in mute testimony to the suffering he had endured. He had stepped on a land mine. He left four children fatherless and with no support.

This was just one tragic case, told to us by the OAS Director in Nicaragua. Over the five years we have been carrying on mine clearing programs in Central America, officials of our Organization have learned of hundreds of others that were just as dramatic.

It is to these victims that we devote our efforts. We have come together here with a common purpose - on the part of governments, multilateral agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private foundations - to join in the final battle to banish these mines from the face of the earth.

A struggle against the worst of weapons, which, as we have been told, kills or injures one person every 22 minutes somewhere in the world.

And as part of the colossal anti-mine effort in which we are all engaged, I would like to inform of what we are doing in the Western Hemisphere region and in the Organization of American States.

In 1991 the countries of Central America first expressed their desire for the OAS to help them to de-activate and destroy the mines that had been buried during the preceding years of fratricide conflict in that region.

Since that time, mine clearance has been a steady concern of the OAS. In June, 1996 our General Assembly took a political decision to adopt the goals of ridding the Western Hemisphere of anti-personnel land mines, and converting it into a Mine-Free Zone. The General Assembly called upon member states to declare and implement moratoria on the production, use, and transfer of all antipersonnel land mines in the Western Hemisphere. As a confidence- and security-building measure, it requested our Permanent Council to implement a complete and integrated register of antipersonnel land mines in the member states. The Register also contains plans for clearance of the remaining land mines.

For their part, the countries of Central America, under the aegis of the OAS, have set the year 2000 as the target for reaching that objective which, I am happy to say, these countries have reaffirmed just a few hours ago at this conference.

I feel proud to say that the Organization of American States has been in front of the world curve in adopting this type of concerted political decisions of the kind so concretely memorialized in the Ottawa process.

The results we have achieved drive us to do more. In addition to the existing mine clearing programs in Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua, we are about to launch one in Guatemala.

The Inter-American Defense Board made up of experts provided by OAS member countries, is the agency responsible for coordinating our international mine clearing team. The countries affected have made a tremendous contribution to the project, by offering the field engineers who must risk their lives in the actual work of clearing the mines. In addition, they have provided financial and material resources.

The OAS, for its part, is working through its Unit for the Promotion of Democracy to provide general coordination services and to administer the donated resources.

I would like to make special mention here of the assistance provided by some our member states, including Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, Peru, Uruguay Venezuela and the United States. They have contributed with military experts and equipment. The financial support that has made these projects possible comes from France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Canada, the United Kingdom and Denmark.

Let me make a short digression to share with you some of the valuable experience that we, in the OAS, have acquired through our work on mine clearing programs.

First, we are acutely aware that mine-clearing work goes well beyond the purely military realm, since these mines, beyond the threat they hold for our people, hold back economic development and hinder efforts to build needed infrastructure.

For these reasons - and second - our experience suggests that, if in the affected countries the civilian authorities devoted to social and economic development work together with military authorities and international agencies, the projects yield better, faster and more complete results.

Third, our experience shows that projects of this kind are an effective means for fostering closer links of cooperation among the armed forces of our hemisphere. They have been brought together in the mine-clearing effort, and this has in itself served as a confidence-building measure.

Fourth, in countries where mine-clearing programs are underway, there has been a convergence of interests on behalf of peace. When soldiers and civilians work shoulder-to-shoulder in national and regional efforts of this kind, it promotes such convergence. In many cases, we find groups who were once sworn enemies now working towards the same objective.

Fifth, we have learned that when it comes to mine clearing, we must be very disciplined in preparing plans, but flexible in setting deadlines. Today we know that in undertakings of this kind, where there are so many variables, the best-laid plans are hostage to countless contingencies relating to weather, topography, or availability of helicopters, equipment and specialized personnel. The situation is made all the worse and more time consuming by the fact that those who laid the mines left no means to locate them.

Finally, after the actual demining comes another phase of the project that has yet to be clearly formulated in our region, but, just as the treaty itself sets out, I believe we should tackle now.

I am referring here to two areas: first, to rehabilitation, training and social re-integration for the hundreds of injured and maimed people left behind in our countries; and second, of the kind of socioeconomic projects that might be undertaken in the new mine-free zones, which in most cases are areas of poverty and great need. It would be very useful to begin discussion of these issues within the framework of the roundtables of this conference.

To our hosts, the Canadian authorities, to you distinguished delegates and friends:

We know that with the signature of this historic Convention for which we have gathered today in Ottawa, we are witnessing not the end but the beginning of a process. An effort that deservedly, has garnered the name "Ottawa Process."

It has counted on the very significant support of civil society through the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines and today receives the adherence and political backing of more than 120 nations.

This Convention unites its signatory states in a process for the total eradication of anti-personnel mines. It proclaims a blanket prohibition, not only against the use of such devices, but also against their development, production, acquisition and stockpiling. The Convention represents, then, a call to all the nations of the world to work together in a spirit of cooperation.

I see it, in the end, as an appeal for human solidarity. This is what we need if we are not to hear more stories like that of Presentación Florián, that fill us all with so much outrage and shame.

Thank you.