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After Cartagena. An Assessment of the Second Mine Ban Treaty Review Conference in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

Maria Josep Parés
General co-ordinator of the NGO Moviment per la Pau and member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines Advisory Board
Maria Josep Parés

Maria Josep Parés

Heat, good weather, diplomatic receptions and "events" aplenty... Cartagena de Indias dressed up for the occasion, to show the world that it was at the centre of the fight against anti-personnel mines during the days of the conference. The organisation and hotel accommodation were very good at the Convention Centre where the Ottawa Treaty Review Conference took place. All this was awaiting us in Colombia when we landed there in late November last year.

Everyone in the city knew that the event was being organised there, in the same way as another one - perhaps a business conference - had been organised a few days previously, and a few days afterwards, perhaps there would be one in the tourism sector. Indeed, Cartagena is Colombia's conference centre par excellence.

However, we "activists" knew exactly where we were what we were there for, and we were not about to let ourselves be dazzled by the glittering lights. The reason why we were there was constantly on our minds: the victims caused by the presence of anti-personnel mines, cluster bombs, and other leftover explosives from wars around the world. Those people, who were represented in Cartagena by a large group of survivors and representatives of affected Colombian communities (such as indigenous peoples), are working tirelessly to make sure that neither we, nor the governments and international agencies who attended, forget this reason. They took part in the talks, lectures and meetings, met the media, and participated in other parallel events. From the very first day, the words of Song Kosal1 at the opening session guided our work.

Some of the events that took place at the Conference are worthy of mention here. First, Spain was about to take over the joint Presidency of the European Union and for this reason, various meetings took place, to find out how it would focus on the subject within the Union, and the extent of Spain's commitment, which on an individual level, involved increasing aid. It remains to be seen whether the efforts that were promised to us will lead to results, and whether the EU will take firm joint action against mines. There was also an "honorary" guest; the United States arrived and made its voice heard, but if anyone was expecting that President Obama's recent Nobel Peace Prize to make him see that remaining on the fringes of an international humanitarian forum such as this one was neither ethical, legal or reasonable, they were mistaken. The North American representative spoke very briefly, because he had no other alternative. A few days beforehand, Ian Kelly, the spokesperson of the State Department, had said that the Obama Administration had reviewed its policy on mines and that there would be no change. The reaction inside the country and abroad was strong, and the government received so many criticisms that it was forced to rectify this. They went to Cartagena to say that the Obama Administration was still reviewing its policy on mines. Unfortunately, they gave no more details, or a deadline, and did not say what form this review would take. We must continue to wait. However, it is a cause for satisfaction that after a decade, they have finally participated in a Conference. One very emotional moment, which made the hall burst into applause, was when a group of young people who had been attending a parallel programme during the entire week to receive training to become a new generation of activists, made a declaration asking all the States present to become fully involved in the processes necessary to make the world into a truly safe and peaceful place, and all the States that have yet to sign the Treaty of Ottawa to do so, and to listen to them and to their proposals, as they also wished to contribute to making the world free of mines.

As well as NGOs, the survivors and representatives of affected communities, there were also other voices from people important in their respective fields that made themselves heard; these included the Colombian singer Juanes, who maintained an open dialogue with the Colombian survivors and on this occasion, did not allow the Colombian government to appropriate his speech and politicise his presence in Cartagena, and the photographer and journalist Gervasio Sánchez who made more than a few people blush with more bluntness and clarity to which we are accustomed. He presented his exhibition "Mined Lives. 10 years" in Cartagena, which made no bones about showing everyone who wanted to see it that the terror of mines has no justification.

Now we have a new Action Plan for the next 5 years - a detailed plan of commitments in all areas of action against mines: care for victims, demining, education on risk, destruction of stocks and international co-operation. Care for victims is the area where most progress has been made in the last 10 years. Firoz Ali Alizada, Treaty Implementation Officer of the ICBL, and landmine survivor, said: "in terms of compliance with the promises made to victims, we are still scratching the surface. We face very difficult challenges to provide extensive and timely support for survivors, and tp fully respect their rights."

International civil society is ready and we have enough energy to keep working vigorously to achieve this2.

1. ICBL Young People's Ambassador against Mines and a survivor of Cambodia (Tornar)
2. The documents referred to in this article are available at: (Tornar)