My long-time colleague and friend Tun Channereth, who received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), greeted the opening and delivered the campaign’s statement to a regional meeting on the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty that I attended in Bangkok, Thailand on 2-3 April 2009.

Thailand’s Foreign Minister  Kasit Piromya also spoke at the Bangkok Workshop opening and made a point of acknowledging the Cambodian delegation to before he left. This was in part because the day before he had been quoted as calling Cambodian’s Prime Minister Hun Sen a ‘thug.’ The minister claimed he had been mistranslated. (more…)

london25mar09The problem with taking photos is that you can’t take ‘em when you speak – that’s what happened at the London event to launch the Disarm DVD on 25 March 2009. It was fun evening though and thanks for Thomas for his photo!  About 60 guests attended the event at Portcullis House in the British parliament, which featured a panel comprised of Dogwoof’s Andy Whittaker member of parliament Frank Cook, former BBC journalist and parliamentarian Martin Bell, and Disarm director Mary Wareham. Co-director Brian Liu was unable to attend the London launch. (more…)

dsc_0016I stopped in Managua, Nicaragua this week to attend the first the first in a series of regional meetings planned in the lead-up to the Mine Ban Treaty’s Second Review Conference, which will take place in Cartagena, Colombia from 30 November-4 December 2009. Government representatives from 18 countries across the region attended the Managua Workshop as did campaigners from a dozen countries.  The campaign’s delegation included eight landmine survivors from Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Peru.

It was interesting to be back in Nicaragua; my first visit was eight years ago just after 9/11. The mine clearance work in the region is nearing completion. Nicaragua is the last country in Central America still complete its demining program. They are working hard to meet this goal by December, but it requires ongoing funding to complete. We had a disheartening discussion on $$$ with the U.S. embassy, as the U.S. demining programme had unilaterally decided that Nicaragua is “mine-impact free” and no longer requires support. Shame that the U.S. couldn’t have taken a joint decision together with other donors who are part of the Mine Ban Treaty as Nicaragua still requires continued support in order to be “mine-free.”

3027941909_0187df7abd1During my time in Lebanon I visited an all-women cluster munition clearance project run by Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) in Tibnine, a town in the central part of South Lebanon. I wanted to see their work and brief two of the women that were invited to attend the Oslo Signing Conference of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. I haven’t found a place to write up the notes of this visit so thought I’d share it here. (more…)

I did some shopping today at the heavily secured Boroka Foodworld supermarket. My expat colleague from the highlands wanted to pick up some hard-to-find produce like yoghurt and spinach. My shopping criteria was for products made in PNG that were not perishable. Picked up some ground coffee from Goroka for NZD$4.20/K8.20 per pound, a few cans of “Diana” tuna, a jar of banana-ginger jam, a pot of honey, and few savoury wafer biscuits that seem to be popular. While the packaging looked great, I decided against the cans of corned beef… Customs in Australia were a bit annoyed, but let me keep everything! Returning to New Zealand via Oz was a bit of a shock – poverty/wealth, black/white – all less than 2 hours apart…

I’ve only had a glimpse in, but Papua New Guinea seems like an amazing country. It is overwhelming rural and Port Moresby felt more like a town than the capital of the country with 5.8 million people divided between the mountainous highlands, coastal areas, and islands. Over 850 indigenous languages are spoken, while Pidgin English or “Tok Pisin” is principal unifying language. Trying to follow Pidgin is a lot of fun. Woman is “meri” so my name came in for some humourous name-calling (like “razor meri” or “sharp/fine woman.”

Since independence in 1975 from its Australian administrators, the government has struggled to govern under the Westminster-style parliamentary system. Infrastructure is minimal. Airplanes are the only means to get around most parts of the country and the flights aren’t cheap (US$500+). Corruption is rampant and crime serious. Tribal warfare continues in the highlands and conflicts have arisen over foreign exploitation of the country’s vast oil, gas, and mineral reserves. During the week I read articles in the national Post-Courier newspaper with headlines such as: “gang taunts cops as they rape woman” and “infant devoured by dogs” and “terror on Mt. Hagen streets.”

Just one national TV station, EM TV, screening news at 6pm and music videos from around the Pacific as well as copious amounts of cricket. One of the biggest stories that week was the cancellation of an A$8 billion gas pipeline from the southern highlands down to Queensland.

In 2006, Oxfam started working with some local health, women’s and youth groups in Tari who were concerned to try and reduce violence in and around their town. After a State of Emergency was declared in September, there was a fear that police would enter communities to seize weapons by force. So the civil society groups worked together with the community police in Tari to encourage the peaceful surrender of weapons and no police raids took place. Since the emergency, security in Tari has improved markedly; a road project is now underway and services are being restored (banking, post office). Still basic education and healthcare are apparently abysmal and Tari is pushing for the establishment of a separate Hela province to try and improve access to services. I went to PNG to meet with these and other groups to plan Oxfam’s research and advocacy into gun violence prevention. This photo shows James Palona from Tari Urban Youth Group (left) and Joseph Worai, who runs Community Based Health Care from Tari.

Saturday 31 December was my final day in Egypt and it was pretty packed. We started by meeting with the governor of Matruh at his huge office on the main square. Mohamad Al-Shahat spoke at the Cairo conference earlier in the week inviting the participants to hold their next meeting in his governorate, which encompasses most of the affected Western Desert including Al Alamein. We encouraged him to make this happen and offered our assistance. He went on about the need for the countries that used the ordnance to come and remove it, but moved beyond the rhetoric to make some interesting points.
According to Al-Shahat 148,000 fedans (an Egyptian mesurement of 4,200 m2/fedan) of land in his area has been cleared, but is not in use because of a lack of water. So he said the government needs to look carefully at how the land will be used before asking for millions of dollars to clear it. We expressed concern that the people finding UXO do not report them to police or the Army. Al-Shahat said they can always contact the local government office, but promised to follow-up on our suggestion that he establish a dedicated telephone number for people to report to. We described the many problems faced by the victims we met, including broken prostheses, low or no benefits, and lack of employment opportunities. He said the local government has a small business loan system in place and 240 permanent and 140 temporary jobs available, but has no ability to advertise these opportunities.

After saying he needed to leave, the governor spent 1.5 hours with us meaning we left Marsa Matruh for Cairo later than expected. On the way back, we met up with Saber again who took us abo of ut 20 kilometers into the desert to a location where a bedouin shepherd had uncovered a large cache of WWII-era weapons. When we got there, we found two mortar rounds, several grenades, an antivehicle mine, and bullets lying on the sand. Saber introduced us to a local man named Hamed, who lost most of his right hand and his eye in 1988 at the age of 13 years when he was making a fire for tea while grazing sheep and goats.
On the way back we stopped to chat with some kids about same age as Hamed when he was injured. They were grazing sheep, goats, and some camels. The sun was setting on the desert. It was a pretty scene. I just hope they grow up without going through the same experience as Hamed.

Scene of my last annual ban treaty meeting = Croatia, November/December 2005

Pursuing Peace in Italy (April 2003)

I was feeling a bit out of it after my flight to Rome. I looked out the window of the train taking me into the city and saw rainbow flags flying from balconies and windows of houses and apartments. They all had “PACE” on them.

What did it mean? Something to do with gay rights? Like PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays)?

Finally it clicked: Pace. Paz. Paix. Peace. A fitting theme for my time spent in Rome earlier this month.

Rome marked the culmination of a six-month’s work to produce our fifth annual report. The Italian government had agreed to pay to bring together our global network of researchers together to submit their updates for the report. Our partner, the Italian Campaign to Ban Landmines had volunteered to coordinate all aspects of the meeting. I was going a week ahead of the meeting to early to make sure it would all go as planned.

I worked out of the campaign’s tiny office at the beginning with my colleagues Simona and Giuseppe speaking to me in an odd mix of English & Italian and me answering in English and sometimes Spanish. In Iraq, a story broke about deminers disarming and removing thousands of antipersonnel mines discovered stored in a mosque. I looked online at their photos. These were Italian-manufactured Valmara-69 antipersonnel mines, a particularly nasty-looking device the size of a tin can with three prongs coming off the top. Designed to jump up a meter before exploding, after wires coming from the prongs were tripped. Italy exported these mines by the millions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We had our media hook for the opening press conference.

As our participants started arriving from all over the world, I moved into the venue, a converted monastery in the south of the city. We met, slept, ate and partied in this place for three days straight. I awoke on the first day of the conference to see U.S. soldiers in Baghdad and the Republican Guard running away while stripping off their black uniforms. I wondered if we’d be able to stay focused on our discussions. By the end of the meeting, the U.S. seemed to be “winning” Baghdad. We took the participants outside for a group photograph. They posed with the PACE flags. Later we gave everyone a flag, which they dressed up in for the closing party.

For most of our people, the PACE message was more relevant to their situations back home and not the Iraq war. Conflicts simmering or continuing in countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Burma, Burundi, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Serbia, Senegal, Sudan, Uganda, Venezuela and so on… But Iraq was the overriding theme of the week. We watched the bombs drop and knew the hard work was yet to be done. Who will clean up this mess of mines, cluster bombs and other explosive remnants of war? Why did it have to happen in the first place?

At this time in history, Italy was probably the most appropriate place we could have chosen to meet in peace about peace. Pace, pronounced pa-chey. Back in DC, my flag is flying from the balcony.

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