War Is An Atrocity Against Humanity

By: Brendan Kennedy

War is an atrocity against humanity.

We are comforted, though, in the knowledge that despite the inhumanity of war, it will be over one day. One day, the fire will cease and the armies will depart. It may be years, it may decades, but hope remains because war cannot be everlasting.

But what if war never ended? What if peace never came and freedom never granted? What if war was invisible, but everywhere and always near? What if war was forever?

Then, no longer would war just be an atrocity; it would be hell on earth.

The unimaginable “what if” scenario is the reality for people living in countries affected by landmines. At least, it was the reality before humanitarian organizations across the world offered some hope to those affected by landmines by deciding that something needed to be done to eliminate the ubiquitous fear caused by the existence of the weapon.

People living in countries affected by landmines are imprisoned in their own land. They are constrained by the deadly fear of detonating a mine while simply harvesting crops, walking to market, or playing in a field.

Their wars are supposed to be over, but war will persist until the landmines are cleared. If landmines remain and persist, there is no freedom and there can be no peace.

The civilian impact of landmines goes far beyond just the explosive nature of the weapon.

“It prevents people from being able to restore their economy post-conflict,” said Scott Fairweather, president of the Canadian Landmine Foundation. “The war damages the economy in so many areas, but particularly rural areas. Then, the war ends and the economy is supposed to bounce back, but how can it bounce back if people can’t cultivate crops or walk to market?” he said.

While most weapons are taken away by departing armies, landmines remain active long after the war is over. Landmines can remain active for an extremely long period of time after they are put in the ground.

“There are mines that were put down as part of the First World War in France that are still as deadly today as they were on the day they were put in,” Fairweather said. “In some ways they are even more deadly, because they are somewhat de-stable now.”

In the mid-to-late 80’s humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and Handicap International began reporting disproportionate numbers of civilian impacts from landmines. At which point a lobby movement was born in order to influence politicians to do something about the growing crisis in countries affected by landmines.

The lobbying continued until October of 1996 when Canada’s then foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy invited the International Campaign to Ban Landmines to a meeting of state’s parties held in Ottawa. At this meeting, Axworthy challenged the delegates to return to Ottawa in fourteen months, prepared to sign a treaty banning landmines.

“Rather than continuing to meet as state’s parties, they simply set a deadline,” Fairweather said. “This was unprecedented.”

The Ottawa treaty was the most rapidly negotiated international arms treaty in history and it was also the most rapidly ratified international treaty in history. On December 3, 1997, 122 countries signed their intention to uphold the treaty.

“This was not a binding matter,” Fairweather said. “This was simply saying that they intended to go home and pass laws. They were saying that they would pass laws that would prohibit the production, the use, the trade of the weapon, and they would destroy their state’s stockpiles,” he said.

Today, the Ottawa Treaty is law in 143 countries and not a single country is officially trading the weapon.

“I think its extraordinary progress,” Fairweather said. “This is the first time in the history of the world that civil society and government have come together to eliminate a weapon that has some military use, because it impacts on civilians. I think that is an extraordinary thing to support,” he said.

Three years ago the Canadian Landmine Foundation, through its partnership in the global Adopt-A-Minefield Campaign, started “Night of A Thousand Dinners” to help raise funds for landmine clearing projects and survivor assistance.

The campaign encourages average people to host dinners for their friends and family and instead of guests bringing flowers or dessert, they offer a donation.

“That dinner can be anything,” Fairweather said. “It can be inviting your friends and neighbours in and cooking your Sunday roast on Thursday, or we’ve also seen service clubs take over entire restaurants. It can be any scale,” he said.

This year, the “Night of 1000 Dinners” will be celebrated on Thursday, November 4.

The Canadian Landmine Foundation recently announced that one hundred percent of all funds raised in the campaign will go towards mine action projects through the United Nations.

The money raised in “Night of 1000 Dinners” is put towards two different areas of mine action projects. Three quarters of the money raised is put towards mine clearance projects and the rest of the money is put towards survivor assistance.

“We attempt to provide not just a prosthetic, but also for the rehabilitation and reintegration of people with disabilities into the workforce,” Fairweather said.

Since its inception in 2001, “Night of 1000 Dinners” has raised about $3.5 Million U.S. and has been organized in more than fifty countries around the world.

In its existence, Adopt-a-Minefield has raised more than $12 Million U.S. and has cleared 18 million square metres of land. Due to its massive fundraising effort and abilities, Adopt-a-Minefield is the only NGO that is listed with governments as a key funder.

To host a dinner, all one needs to do is register at www.1000dinners.com, and they will receive a fundraising package containing a videotape prepared by Goodwill Ambassadors Paul and heather Mills McCartney. The dinner can be organized however the host decides. Some events are held in restaurants, in churches, in Rotary or Kiwanis Clubs, but most are held in private homes.

With so many well-deserving organizations vying for charity dollars, why should people care about the issue of landmines?

“The main reason I believe people should get involved with this is that this thing can be fixed,” Fairweather said. “Because of the Ottawa Treaty we essentially now a finite number in the ground, now the challenge is to help the countries who have made a commitment to the Treaty to remove the mines from the ground.”

“When you go through, and you clear 30,000 square metres,” he said. “You do that so you can say, that area is now clear. It’s now available for people who live in that country to use however they want to use it,” he said.

If organizations working towards clearing mines and eradicating the weapon receive sustained funding, it is conceivable that the threat of landmines can be completely removed by 2020.

A mine-safe world landmines in less than 20 years?

It could happen.

It should happen.

About the author: Brendan Kennedy is currently an MA student in history at McGill University.