Vienna, 12 February 2007 – "Mines and unexploded munitions represent a major danger to the population of every country affected by armed conflicts. They restrict people's freedom of movement, put human lives and health at risk, and hinder the supply of vital goods. Working in the fields or children's way to school is often fraught with unforeseen consequences“, said State Secretary Hans Winkler today in his opening address at the symposium "Assisting Landmine Survivors: A Decade of Efforts“. The aim of the full-day event at the Stiftskaserne barracks in Vienna is to discuss key aspects of assistance to the victims of anti-personnel mines as well as reviewing progress achieved so far and assessing the challenges that still lie ahead.
Austria has played a pioneering role in both the formation and the implementation of the so-called Ottawa Convention. "Prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines, and the destruction of these weapons, was of special concern to Austria from the very beginning“, emphasised the State Secretary. The first meeting of experts from a group of likeminded states to negotiate the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines had taken place in Vienna exactly ten years ago. The Convention was signed in Ottawa in December 1997, came into force in 1999 and currently comprises 152 States Parties, including the majority of the worst affected states such as Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Mozambique and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Winkler expressed his conviction that "the Ottawa Process ranks among the great success stories of international disarmament“, pointing out that production and deployment of anti-personnel mines had been notedly restricted over the past few years, trade in these weapons had been brought to an almost complete standstill, the number of new landmine victims significantly reduced, and the safety of the population increased. "Living in constant fear of these cruel weapons is an unbearable state of affairs. Despite the astonishing successes achieved with the implementation of the Convention, far too many innocent people are still falling victim to anti-personnel mines. In most cases it is not just the victims themselves who suffer the consequences of landmines, but their families as well. It is therefore necessary to involve victims' relatives more intensively in the treatment and rehabilitation measures“, the State Secretary went on.
The true extent of the mine problem could not be measured exclusively in terms of the number of victims, however. Landmines had given rise to grave economic and social consequences in many countries, interfering with the reconstruction of infrastructure destroyed by war, hampering the return of refugees and displaced persons, and endangering the personnel of United Nations missions and humanitarian relief organisations. "Our aim will only have been achieved when the suffering and death caused by anti-personnel mines are finally brought to an end. Austria will thus continue to be a constant driving force in the fight against anti-personnel mines“, continued Winkler, underlining Austria's active involvement in implementing the Convention.
The State Secretary likewise stressed Austria's commitment to the further development of international humanitarian law. "Our goal is constant improvement of the measures in place to protect the population in crisis and conflict zones. That is why Austria is also conducting a sustained campaign aimed at swift elaboration of an international convention to effectively combat the disastrous effects of cluster bombs on human lives."
The Austrian Foreign Ministry provides financial support for the fight against anti-personnel mines. In 2006 alone it provided around 1.4 million euros in funding for concrete projects, primarily in South-Eastern Europe and in Africa, with a particular focus on rehabilitation of landmine victims, awareness-raising measures and training in independent de-mining. Furthermore, in September 2006 Austria took over the one-year chairmanship of the Convention's committee for assistance to the victims of anti-personnel mines.
Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Mag. Katharina Swoboda
Office of the State Secretary
Tel.: ++43 (0) 50 1150-3469