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Statement of Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar
General Secretary
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
on
Landmines and Victim Assistance
(As Prepared for Delivery March 8, 2001)

Today, I am pleased to announce a faith-based initiative to renew the push for U.S. accession to the Mine Ban Treaty and increased U.S. support for victim assistance. This is an effort spearheaded by the National Council of Churches and its member communions along with other faith groups to urge the Bush administration and Congress to act immediately to end the scourge of landmines around the world. Church World Service, the service and witness ministry of the National Council of Churches, actively supports demining programs, and works with partner agencies in a number of countries where landmines take their daily toll, including Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Iraq, Laos, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, and Sudan.

Former U.S. Military Commanders assert that, like poison gas, antipersonnel landmines are not essential to the effectiveness or safety of our forces. General Norman Scharzkopf expressed his support for such a ban in 1996 by calling it, "not only humane, but militarily responsible." Not only are they unessential, but they have also inflicted tremendous damage on our own forces in recent conflicts. Landmines caused 1/3 of U.S. casualties in the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars.

Landmines have failed as a "military" weapon, only to become a constant daily threat to the lives of civilians. More than 80% of landmine victims are civilians, mostly children. In many parts of the world that have been mined, herding cattle, playing in a field—even farming are automatically made "high-risk" activities by the presence of landmines. As U.S. denominations and faith groups responding to this crisis through education, mine clearance, and victim assistance, our best efforts come to nothing if the nations who control the largest supplies of landmines do not act. A global ban on landmines must be adopted by all countries.

U.S. policy to date has been piecemeal. Between 1969 and 1992, the U.S. exported 5.6 million mines. We continue to stockpile 12 million. Former President Bush signed a moratorium on landmine exports in 1992 and the U.S. has not produced landmines since 1996. However, the U.S. still reserves the right to use landmines in its military operations. With military leadership acknowledging the existence of alternatives, this position lacks merit. As is appropriate for a world leader, U.S. policy should echo the voices of the faith community and resolutely break with our past as one of the largest producers and exporters by coming into step with international law.

The Mine Ban Treaty is a convention that not only prohibits the use of a cruel device that is unethical and immoral, but assists victims and reclaims the earth. This treaty has truly slowed the carnage, beginning the long process of healing lands broken by landmines. It is unconscionable that, when the world celebrated the second anniversary of its entry into force on March 1st, the world’s largest stockpilers of mines, continued to sit out. President Bush should see that the US joins the Mine Ban Treaty at the earliest possible date.

In the short time we take to acknowledge the horror of landmines today, another person has become a victim of them. Every year, more than 20,000 men, women and children are injured through no fault of their own. Clearly, the U.S. must increase its funding of victim assistance. Three-fourths of mine-affected countries do not receive U.S. government funding in this area. The U.S. currently ranks 11th in the world and spends only 23 cents per capita to support mine clearance, mapping, awareness education, and help for the victims of landmines. The funding of victim assistance must be proportionate to the needs of landmine survivors. A well-constructed U.S. response will involve USAID, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Dept. of Defense, Education, and Agriculture. Landmines is a cross-cutting issue that must be addressed accordingly.

God calls us to beat swords into plowshares and to bring healing to others. In this way, we bring healing to ourselves and affirm our common humanity. U.S. denominations and faith groups support this treaty, and I hope that President Bush and the U.S. Congress can acknowledge the will of U.S. churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples and speedily push for its ratification. Together, we can recognize our common need for a life of wholeness, free from the terror and senseless destruction of landmines. The U.S. should join the Mine Ban Treaty now and ensure that U.S. funding levels for victim assistance are increased across federal agencies to correspond with current needs.

-end-

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