2 September 1997

Press Release


19970902 CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY Addressing Diplomatic Conference on Land-Mines in Oslo, Kofi Annan Salutes Participants' Vision; Says He Will Attend Ottawa Signing Ceremony

Following is the text of the address to be delivered by Secretary- General Kofi Annan to the Diplomatic Conference on Land-mines, in Oslo, on 3 September:

It gives me great pleasure to address your meeting at this vital point in our efforts to achieve a world-wide ban on anti-personnel mines. On behalf of the United Nations, I wish to thank the Government of Norway for hosting this Conference. It is the last step before the final culmination of your efforts in the signing of the convention in Ottawa in December.

Allow me also to greet and to thank Ambassador Selebi for presiding over this Conference, which has such momentous implications for the continent of Africa and for the whole world.

The Ottawa Conference will be a historic event in the peacemaking efforts of our time, and I am proud to say that I will be attending the signing ceremony in Ottawa on behalf of the United Nations. This Conference will be attended by symbolic representatives of the voiceless, the victims and the maimed. The memory of those who have died will be honoured.

Your deliberations here in Oslo -- aiming to complete a convention on the prohibition of the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti- personnel mines -- represent the world-wide determination to see this process to its historic conclusion.

The elimination of land-mines has become a truly global cause, propelled by the demands of citizens everywhere and promoted tirelessly by regional and non-governmental organizations.

I have committed myself to strengthening United Nations ties with civil society, and I am greatly encouraged by our cooperation in the struggle against land-mines.

In this area, in particular, the leadership of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the energy of the International Campaign to Ban Land-mines have been the driving forces. The fight against land-mines has become a model of international cooperation and action.

I believe we stand at the edge of a new age of disarmament. With the threats and fears of the cold war behind us, the international community must seize the moment to turn the tide on the production of arms.

There is a new and growing consensus that the proliferation of arms of all kinds -- whether they be weapons of mass destruction or small arms -- inherently constitutes a threat to peace. Only three months ago, representatives of more than 165 nations gathered in The Hague to take a landmark step in the history of disarmament: the adoption of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

By ending the use, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons, the States parties not only divested themselves of a wicked weapon. They did even more. They declared to this and all succeeding generations that chemical weapons are instruments that no State with any respect for itself and no people with any sense of dignity would use in conflicts whether domestic or international.

Now we must bring to the struggle against land-mines the same determination and the same sense of mission that brought an end to chemical weapons. We must make land-mines, too, a weapon of the past and a symbol of shame.

By gathering today in Oslo you are taking an important step towards the completion of this noble aim.

Over the next three weeks, your negotiations will examine the provisions and language for a comprehensive ban on anti-personnel mines, under the Ottawa Process.

The foundation that was built at the June Conference is a solid one. Ninety-seven countries announced their support for the Ottawa Process and agreed to negotiate the terms for an international treaty to be signed in December.

That treaty will serve not only as a complement but also as an inspiration for greater and swifter progress in the Conference on

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Disarmament's own deliberations towards a total ban on land-mines. Together, the two avenues can truly lead to a world-wide prohibition, including both the countries affected by land-mines and those which produce and export them.

In my message to the Brussels conference, I urged that we seize the opportunity to eradicate this invisible enemy. I also pledged, as I do today, the support and the commitment of the United Nations towards the aim of a total ban.

I do so not only because the use of a weapon whose victims are overwhelmingly women and children is fundamentally immoral. I pledge our support also because the curse of land-mines affects every aspect of the work of the United Nations -- from peace and security, to health and to development.

A total ban on anti-personnel land-mines will mark the end of only one aspect of our fight against land-mines. No less important is the removal of millions of mines which have already been laid.

Each mine cleared may mean a life saved. But we know also that for every one hundred thousand mines cleared a year, between two and five million mines are laid at the same time. The presence -- or even the fear of the presence -- of just one land-mine can prevent the cultivation of an entire field, robbing a family or perhaps an entire village of its livelihood.

From my experience in peace-keeping, I have seen first-hand -- in all parts of the world -- the literally crippling effects of land-mines, for peoples and societies alike. Land-mines remain the most deadly and destructive obstacles to our work in post-conflict societies.

Whether it is the rebuilding of infrastructure, the repair of homes or, most importantly, the return of refugees, land-mines are enemy number one. In countries as diverse as Angola, Cambodia and Bosnia, we have seen how the long and hard work of post-conflict rehabilitation is marred many years into the future by the presence of land-mines.

Though civilians, of course, are the first and foremost victims of mines, we should not forget that the very work of peace-keeping and peace- building is imperiled by land-mines. Last month, I encouraged the Security Council in its decision to institute a Dag Hammarskjold Medal honouring fallen peace-keepers.

The very first peace-keeper to sacrifice his life in the cause of the United Nations was killed by a land-mine in the Middle East. Since then, far too many peace-keepers have lost their lives to mines, and continue to do so,

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more recently in Bosnia. To honour the memory of that first Blue Helmet, and those that followed, we must eradicate the use and production of mines.

You have embarked on a mission of genuine promise. The universal revulsion at the use of land-mines has reached unprecedented levels.

Even within military circles, there is a growing conviction that land- mines are as great a threat to those who plant them as to anyone else. There is a widening consensus that the strategic utility of anti-personnel mines is marginal, and that in the growing number of conflicts with fluid frontiers, defensive minefields limit operational actions rather than enable them.

Finally, it is development itself that is held hostage to the curse of land-mines. Developing countries are too often twice cursed -- with poverty and with war -- land-mines being the most permanent, the most destructive wound of war. Without their elimination, refugees will be far less able to return, idle fields will be far less accessible, and peace itself will be elusive.

That is why our work is so important, that is why your aim of a complete ban holds such promise for imperiled millions around the world, not only the citizens but also the soldiers at risk.

I salute your for your vision. I look forward to seeing you in Ottawa.

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For information media. Not an official record.