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GOVERNMENT OF BELGIUM, Landmine Monitor Report 1999

Government of Belgium

I am particularly pleased to have been asked to contribute to the first Annual Report of the International Observatory. The ban of anti-personnel mines is indeed a cause defended by Governments and non-governmental organisations alike. That shared concern has characterised the entire negotiating process leading to the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines. At this stage, it is important to carry on in the same direction and effectively implement the Convention with a view to achieving a world-wide ban of anti-personnel landmines.

The co-operation between Governments and NGO's is again illustrated by the timing of this publication. This Report sets out to give a first general review of the global state of affairs even before the first Conference of the States party to the Treaty takes place. It will then be supplemented by the comments of the countries attending the Maputo Conference of the Party States next May and by their declarations later in 1999. The Treaty actually stipulates that six months after its entry into force, each Party State is to provide a review - based on a model negotiated between the Party States - of the way in which the Convention has been implemented on its territory. Consequently, the yearbook is a first 'stock taking exercise'.

Belgium supports the action of the International Observatory, in which non-governmental organisations use their knowledge of the situation on the ground and their experience to stimulate the international community to go further. In this, both Governments and non-governmental organisations obviously have to maintain their specific character and preserve their own style and autonomy.

For years now, I have been advocating a world-wide ban on anti-personnel mines. These weapons cause a humanitarian catastrophe and continue to be harmful years after a conflict has been ended. Mines are extremely easy to emplace, but their clearance is very expensive and time consuming. Destroying mines costs approximately 500 times more than manufacturing them.

Moreover, these devices often fundamentally hamper the normalisation process in "transition" countries, in which a peace process has recently been put on track. As a result, the agricultural sector, business and industry cannot function properly. Furthermore, the fear and the sense of insecurity and vulnerability caused by the presence of these mines have a devastating effect on the social and economic fabric and paralyse the dynamics of local communities in transition countries.

Anti-personnel mines have a deep impact on the daily life of the local population. In many cases, they prevent local people from safely returning to conflict zones and resume farming, which is a major source of economic development and self-sufficiency. Those who continue to work and live in these areas, despite a conflict going on, expose themselves as well as their children every day to the risk of being maimed. If that happens, they depend for the rest of their lives on a society only laboriously recovering after a stop has been put to a conflict. In situations like these, where the poorest and most vulnerable population groups such as children are the worst hit, the future of a country is seriously jeopardized.

In his Agenda for Peace of June 1992, the then UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali pointed out the large humanitarian and socio-economic problems caused by anti-personnel mines. The International Conference on Demining, which was held in Geneva in July 1995 and which I chaired, has stressed the need for political commitment and for sufficient financial means and equipment in order to tackle the problem effectively.

After this conference, the international community soon realised that the only real answer to these humanitarian preoccupations was a total ban of such devices. Belgium played a very active role in the international campaign to ban anti-personnel mines on a global scale. Our country continued on an international level what had already been achieved on the national level. Belgium was in fact the first country in the world to proclaim a ban de jure, by the Act of 9 March 1995 amended by the Act of 24 June 1996. With the exception of a small quantity of anti-personnel mines, all stocks have been destroyed since September 1997. The remainder will be used to train further Belgian experts to be deployed – as and when necessary – in other countries where mines are still a part of daily life.

In the context of this international campaign, Belgium has been active within the central group of countries of the Ottawa-process. This group advocated the conclusion of an international treaty. After the initial meeting in Ottawa, a series of conferences were organised in various countries, in the running-up to what is considered to be a genuine success, namely the signing of the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines. In June 1997, my country hosted one of these conferences. The Brussels Conference crystallised the necessary political will to establish a legally binding instrument in the short term and to organise a diplomatic conference which would start in Oslo in September 1997. As a result, the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines was drawn up; it was already open for signature on 3 and 4 December of that same year. Belgium signed the Convention on 3 December 1997 and deposited its instruments of ratification with the UN Secretariat in New York on 4 September 1998. Our country has thus been among the 40 first ratifying countries, the number required for the entry into force of the Convention.

I am therefore very pleased to note that the year 1999 is already marked by two major events, namely the entry into force of the Convention on 1 March 1999 and the convening by the UN Secretary-General of the first Party States Conference, in Maputo from 3 to 7 May. We hope that these events will have a stimulating effect on universalising the Convention. Its global adherence is an objective which I regularly refer to, as does my Ministry, in our contacts with colleagues from other countries.

However, universalization is not the only goal. The implementation of the Convention by those countries which already have acceded, is another necessary task. It has two aspects: on the one hand, the implementation of the specific provisions of the Convention regarding the national territory and on the other hand, the assistance to other countries, ranging from traditional demining and technical training programmes, to assistance to victims and educational programmes to make the population aware of the problem and teach them how to deal with mines. As I already mentioned before, some countries might have difficulties removing all mines from their territory, especially when they have just come out of a conflict. The Convention stipulates that, in that case, such a country can rely on assistance from other countries which are in a position to provide it. In this respect, it must be stressed that the responsibility for demining lies primarily with the infected country. That country has to develop, with international support if necessary, an autonomous local demining capacity. However, all international assistance has to be aimed at enabling this country to comply with the Ottawa Convention on a totally autonomous basis and as soon as possible.

Belgium has committed itself to achieving this aim and argued during the negotiations of the Ottawa Convention for adding a provision on humanitarian assistance. Both in 1997 and in 1998, our country made available an amount of more than BEF 100 million on top of its normal contribution to the EU common action. For 1999 too, funds have already been allocated, e.g. in favour of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund. As regards assistance, our country is guided in the first place by the Ottawa Convention, the Common Action, the EU Resolution and the UN policy. Belgium takes up the position that a country which asks for assistance actually subscribes to the Convention. As far as specific mine clearance is concerned, there is indeed no point in starting demining activities which are slow, dangerous and expensive, if mines are emplaced more quickly than they are cleared. In the case of humanitarian emergency situations, assistance to mine victims and mine awareness programmes, this principle can be departed from.

Belgium has built up an expertise in the area of demining and will continue to develop it. To that end, it also supports initiatives in the area of technical research and development with a view to speeding up demining activities. As you know, the Ottawa Convention stipulated a period of up to ten years as the term in which the ban has to be implemented. This is obviously not an absolute term and an extension may be granted to countries facing major problems on their territory. At this moment however, our main concern has to be to find a solution according to the schedule set by the Ottawa Convention and we should not let anything deter us.

Signed: Mr. Erik Derycke, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Belgium