Friday, April 17, 2015

Norwegian NGO Asists in Removal of Landmines in Colombia

Mine clearing machinery (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The April 3 edition of NotiSur reported that the the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) guerrillas produced their first tangible result: an agreement to jointly clear landmines planted in the course of the country’s long and cruel civil war. Sources cited in the March 18 Web edition of Semana, a Bogota-based weekly magazine, say the mine removal will be slow, expensive, and could take at least a decade to complete. The March 25 edition of Semana features a photograph of a piece of specialized equipment that will be used in this effort.

The two sides will be counting on help from Norway, which, together with Cuba, is one of the two outside countries overseeing the peace talks. A major participant in this effort is the NGO Norwegian People's Aid (NPA).  The NPA specializes in the removal of landmines “for safe school roads and football fields” around the glob. NPA’s vision is what the organization refers to as “Solidarity in Practice”. The NPA’s General Assembly in 2011 approved the organization’s principles and values:

NPA works together with marginalized and oppressed groups so that people themselves can defend and promote their interests. NPA’s cooperation with partner organizations shall be based on mutual respect and equality. Based on practical solidarity work, NPA will be a courageous organization that shows solidarity with groups that defend their legitimate rights. NPA shall challenge power and injustice for the common good. The organizations practical work shall be based on solidarity, not charity. 

Photo: Norwegian People's Aid
Politically Independent NGO
Founded in 1939 as the Norwegian labor movement’s humanitarian solidarity organization, NPA is politically independent and membership-based. They currently work in more than thirty countries throughout the globe. As part of its 2011 Assembly, the NPA confirmed that it will “continue to be one of the world’s most important organizations within humanitarian explosives clearance.” Throughout the NPA’s history in humanitarian disarmament, past projects include Afghanistan, Chile, Croatia, Ethiopia, Iran, Palestine (Gaza) and Sri Lanka. Some of their current projects in addition to their role in the Colombian peace process include Syria, Kosovo, Peru, Vietnam, South Sudan and Rwanda, among dozens of others in every continent except Antarctica.

The ban on anti-personal mines was negotiated in September of 1997, however for decades mines used by practically every military throughout the world continue to kill innocent children and adults, as well as prevent the use of lands for cultivation. Although annual land mine related deaths have been greatly reduced in recent years, including thirty countries that have completely finished with landmine clearance processes, these hidden weapons lying in wait continue to present a major humanitarian crisis. Although more than 80% of countries throughout the world are signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty, the U.S. is among 35 countries yet to sign on.

According to NPA and partner organizations like the UN Development Programme, Colombia is one of the countries in the world most contaminated by landmines, This problem has resulted in an above-average number of ‘accidents’ every year. Most of the landmines were planted by the national military to target non-state armed groups. Landmines are believed to be present in over 40% of the national territory, in 31 out of 32 state departments (which amounts to one out of every two municipalities). The Colombian government has registered more than 5 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The NPA has been requested as an independent partner by both parties in the peace negotiations, presumably because of the organization's track record as a politically independent group. A deadline of  March 1, 2021, has been set to complete clearance in Colombia.

-Jake Sandler 
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