Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – Israel’s commando attack on six ships have grabbed world attention this week. Last week it was North Korea’s torpedoes.
Amid the gloomy talk of wars and fighting, one man was quietly but forcefully convincing military and political leaders to take one step in the other direction, away from the tools of war.
Prince Mired Raad Zeid Al Hussein of Jordan was in Geneva last week as the convention president’s special envoy on the universalization of the Mine Ban Convention, en route to Washington, DC, where he spent the last week of May meeting with several top US officials.
His task: convince the US and 38 other states to sign the treaty, to which 156 other nations have agreed to be bound since the convention entered into force in 1999. The Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention is also known as the Ottawa Convention.
Several countries, including the US, are “coming closer”, he believes. “Having the US would be great. Others would come on board. It would create a media stir.
“There’s not a country we see that doesn’t ask about the US.”
The US could do enormous good by taking a leadership role and signing, he believes. “This is a walk in the park, compared to Start [the lengthy Start talks with Russia, in Geneva, to reduce nuclear warheads], and a golden opportunity for the US to show the world its goodwill,” he told GenevaLunch during an interview at the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) where the secretariat of the Convention is housed in.
Prince Mired will provide an update on his Washington and other visits when he reports back 21 June in Geneva to the Standing Committee on the General Status and Operation of the Convention.
Myriad reasons for not signing
The reasons for not signing are specific to each country. But a common thread, he says, is that “leadership is not engaged. There is a lack of awareness, really, of being uninformed. One only has to see and deal with victims to understand the importance of this. People see this less, maybe, in the US” than in other countries.
He had just returned from a visit to Laos before coming to Geneva.
“Laos has taken a leadership role in Asia on cluster munitions and there is widespread hope that it would do the same with respect to anti-personnel mines. The country is enjoying the benefit of being recognized for taking a leading role.” Additional benefits would no doubt flow to Laos should it accede to the AP Mine Ban Convention, he believes.
Step by step means progress
China, like the US, is a large country that has not signed, but “China has taken a number of steps – it has participated and made significant strides.” Russia, with fighting hot spots, is more reluctant, but Prince Mired says “the important thing is to take the next step.”
The Middle East could decide to follow Kuwait, “which recently came on board”, he notes. “In the Middle East, it is very centralized up at the top, so once something is decided, it moves very quickly.”
Denmark, a state party to the treaty, has concerns for implementing it, an example of the complexity of de-mining: the country is still struggling with landmines left in the Jutland area in the second world war. They are in what is now a nature reserve and there are concerns about disrupting the habitat. The longer that AP (anti-personnel) mines sit, the more delicate the task of removing them. Libya and Egypt also have mines left from the second world war, but they refuse to sign unless Germany and Italy, who planted the mines, pay to remove them. Egypt estimates there are two to three million mines along its border with Libya.
The general principle is that each country pays to remove its own mines, no matter who left them there, although the aggressor sometimes contributes.
Prince’s message: landmines don’t stop armies – they stop only the poor
Prince Mired embarked on a series of visits around the world after he was appointed special envoy in 2009, with a mandate to encourage discussions at the highest level in the 39 countries outside the treaty. He points out to his hosts that the conviction is now widespread that landmines “no longer have military utility. That’s really a fact, not just a belief.”
AP mines were originally designed to protect people from anti-tank mines, but an ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) study in 1996 that was unanimously endorsed by senior military officials from several countries, concluded that landmines “have little or no effect on the outcome of hostilities.”
Today, says the prince, it is clear that in areas where there are border tensions, landmine fields wouldn’t stop the enemy for more than a couple minutes.
He can cite the example of his own country when talking to other countries’ leaders. “Jordan had been in a conflict area for 50-plus years, but despite that we took the decision to de-mine our border. Our late king [King Hussein] believed it was the right thing to do.” The de-mining began in 1993. “We began before our peace treaty with Israel.” People thought Jordan was crazy and criticism was sharp, he recalls, but the de-mining was also seen by Jordan “as a confidence-building measure” in the peace process.
“And to be realistic, landmines wouldn’t have stopped an invasion by Israel. The belief these have some utility is outdated – even for stopping smugglers. It’s really only the innocent, and inevitably the poor who live on the periphery, who are hurt.”
The man smiles quietly, considering his high-level talks. “These trips have been quite useful for getting people engaged.”
The prince, who is shy and unpretentious, is too modest, says Kerry Brinkert, director of the Convention’s secretariat. Jordan’s prince has great credibility when talking about landmines and his background as a long-serving soldier serves him well when he meets senior military officials in other countries. “He’s extremely credible when going into a country,” says Brinkert. “People know he is in charge of the programme [for de-mining and assistance to victims] in his own country.”
Prince Mired was a conscript in the Jordanian army, then completed officer training at Britain’s Sandhurst before becoming a Special Forces officer, then Military Intelligence officer and later a specialist with Jordanian Security. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Tufts University in the US as well as a masters of philosophy in historical studies from Cambridge.
He has chaired Jordan’s National Committee for Demining and Rehabilitation since 2004. In addition, since 2000 he has served as president of the Hashemite Charitable Society for Soldiers with Special Needs and he is vice-president of the Higher Council for Persons with Disabilities.
“My father and I started an NGO in Jordan for ex-soldiers who needed help. We had more than 3,600 soldiers on our roster and among them were landmine victims. That’s how I entered the arena for landmine action. I could see the need to raise the profile.”
Prince Mired’s daunting schedule In Washington included meetings with Samantha Power, senior director for multilateral affairs of the National Security Council as well as US officials from the Departments of State and Defense including representatives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Bureau; Legal Affairs Bureau; Political-Military Affairs Bureau; Population, Refugees and Migration Bureau and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Eliminating landmines: “a do-able cause”
“Clearly, we have a huge problem,” says Prince Mired, whose pragmatic approach means viewing this not as a daunting list of 39 countries who must be signed up right away, but rather as a group whose leaders need to be nudged closer and closer to signing the Ottawa Convention. “What’s nice about this cause is that it’s do-able. The landmine issue is measurable and it can be done.
“And every landmine removed saves a life. One of the good things is that it also gets countries thinking about other issues on the ground, about unexploded clusters, about ordnance disposal.” Mozambique is one of the recent success stories, as is Laos, two countries where a few short years ago conflicts, including the damage caused by landmines, provided daily headlines.
The AP Mine Ban Convention
The AP Mine Ban Convention: “Putting an end to the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel mines through the pursuit of four core aims:
- Ensuring universal adherence
- Destroying stockpiled mines
- Clearing mined areas
- Assisting the victims.”