Address on humanitarian disarmament and mine action

Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt held this speech on a seminar at Kulturhuset in Oslo on humanitarian disarmament and mine action.

Dear partners, colleagues, ladies, and gentlemen, 

Good morning!

It’s an honour to be with you today. You are our most important partners in mine action and humanitarian disarmament. Welcome to Oslo!

Let me start by thanking you and your staff, the deminer teams. They work at full steam, to protect vulnerable civilians from the devastating effects of mines and other explosives.  Sometimes at great risk to their own lives.

  • In Laos, where the Indochina wars left a contamination of almost incomprehensible proportions.
  • In Iraq, where decades of conflict and new contamination from the ISIS affect vulnerable populations,
  • And in Colombia, where the landmines and explosives from the illegal armed groups have killed or injured nearly twelve thousand since 1990.

Just to mention a few contexts.

Looking back, the Balkan war from -92 to -95, was an eye-opener for many of us. By 1996, some two million land mines and other explosives littered Bosnia. It was obvious that this was a great danger to the population. Even after the war, thousands have been killed and wounded.  It was also a great obstacle for peacebuilding.  It stopped refugee return, agricultural production, freedom of movement. And so on. And this was the experience of all countries coming out of conflict where such weapons and explosives were used.

We were among the core group of states working for an Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention in the 90s. The campaign led by civil society and academia played a crucial role. The convention was signed in 1998. Today it has 164 states parties. It is one of the great successes in humanitarian disarmament.

Mine action, in all its aspects, is an important and successful part of our humanitarian protection and disarmament agenda. It focuses on the serious consequences of weapons that do not distinguish between combatants and civilians. This principle of distinction is at the core of protection of civilians.

Norwegian People’s Aid started demining in Bosnia-Hercegovina from 1996 and are still present. Today we support Norwegian Peoples Aid’s work in 15 countries. Our strategic partnerships with The HALO Trust and Mines Advisory group are stronger than ever. Norway is a committed and consistent donor to mine action. In 2023, we support eight partners’ work in 21 countries, with more that 35 million euros.

In 2022, we celebrated the twenty-five year anniversary of the Mine Ban Convention. A lot has been achieved since its start. 33 countries are mine free. According to Mine Action Review, in 2021, the total of land cleared was the highest since 2015. And it was the first year in a decade with no casualties from attacks with cluster munitions.

Despite the achievements of the convention, 2022 was not a year of celebrations. Russia’s illegal war of aggression on Ukraine has changed the picture. There is extensive use of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions in Ukraine. The numbers of casualties are increasing. The contamination of new land in Ukraine is severe and continuous.   Norway condemns all use of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. The use of such indiscriminate weapons by any actor, under any circumstance, is unacceptable.

The clearing of mines and other explosive remnants will continue for years to come in Ukraine. Norway has scaled up our assistance to HALO and NPA in Ukraine. We believe it is of utmost importance that the work starts now, while the conflict is on-going. To protect civilians from these explosives. To make contaminated areas accessible. To secure agricultural food production. And to enable access for other humanitarian actors to deliver basic services. Rearmament, and not disarmament, is on the international agenda.

To quote the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg; “For Ukraine, weapons are the path to peace.” Norway will alongside our NATO allies continue to give Ukraine weapons for their self-defence. However, HOW wars are fought matters. What TYPE of weapons are used matters. There are weapons that shall not be used. This makes the humanitarian disarmament agenda more important than ever. It makes the laws of war more important than ever. Civilians must be protected.

The mine ban and cluster munitions conventions are crucial. The political declaration for regulation of use of explosive weapons in populated areas, was endorsed by more than 80 states in November last year. This is one mote landmark in protection of civilians. When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, over 90 per cent of victims are civilians. A large share of casualties are children, or their parents. Implementing the declaration is now on the agenda. It will be a challenge. Civil society must continue to document and advocate and be the watch dogs.

For mine action to be effective, it must protect everyone. Women, girls, boys, and men. This means considering their diverse needs, vulnerabilities, and perspectives. While most deminers are still men, I am glad to see the mine action sector has made progress on this. Gender perspectives are part of analysis, planning and programming..

Humanitarian disarmament continues to be at the core of our humanitarian policy. We will continue to support humanitarian action across the world. Financially and politically. We look forward to the continued cooperation with our partners in mine action. In Ukraine and in other affected countries worldwide.

Thank you.