"Responding to Landmines: A Modern Tragedy and its Solutions"
A one day seminar co-hosted by the Mines Advisory Group and the Landmine Survivors Network
June 12th 1997
Diana, Princess of Wales
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I must begin by saying how warmly I welcome this conference on landmines
convened by the Mines Advisory Group and the Landmines Survivors' Network. It
is so welcome because the world is too little aware of the waste of life, limb and
land which anti-personnel landmines are causing among some of the poorest people
on earth. Indeed, until my journey to Angola early this year - on which I am going
to speak this morning - I was largely unaware of it too.
For the mine is a stealthy killer. Long after conflict is ended, its innocent victims
die or are wounded singly, in countries of which we hear little. Their lonely fate is
never reported. The world, with its many other preoccupations, remains largely
unmoved by a death roll of something like 800 people every month - many of them
women and children. Those who are not killed outright - and they number another
1,200 a month - suffer terrible injuries and are handicapped for life. I was in
Angola in January with the British Red Cross - a country where there are 15
million landmines in a population, Ladies and Gentlemen, of 10 million - with the
desire of drawing world attention to this vital, but hitherto largely neglected
Some people chose to interpret my visit as a political statement. But it was not. I
am not a political figure. As I said at the time, and I'd like to re-iterate now, my
interests are humanitarian. That is why I felt drawn to this human tragedy. This is
why I wanted to play down my part in working towards a world-wide ban on these
weapons. During my days in Angola, I saw at first hand three aspects of this
scourge. In the hospitals of Luanda, the capital, and Huambo, scene of bitter
fighting not long ago, I visited some of the mine victims who had survived, and saw
their injuries. I am not going to describe them, because in my experience it turns
too many people away from the subject. Suffice to say, that when you look at the
mangled bodies, some of them children, caught by these mines, you marvel at their
survival. What is so cruel about these injuries, is that they are almost invariably
suffered, where medical resources are scarce.
I observed for myself some of the obstacles to improving medical care in most of
these hospitals. Often there is a chronic shortage of medicine, of pain killers, even
of anaesthetics. Surgeons constantly engaged in amputating shattered limbs,
never have all the facilities we would expect to see here. So the human pain that
has to be borne is often beyond imagining. This emergency medical care, moreover,
is only the first step back to a sort of life. For those whose living is the land, loss
of an arm or leg, is an overwhelming handicap which lasts for life. I saw the fine
work being done by the Red Cross and other agencies to replace lost limbs. But
making prostheses is a costly as well as a complicated business. For example; a
young child will need several different fittings as it grows older. Sometimes, the
severity of the injury makes the fitting of an artificial limb impossible. There are
never enough resources to replace all the limbs that are lost.
As the Red Cross have expressed it: "Each victim who survives, will incur lifetime
expenses for surgery and prosthetic care totalling between £2,000 and £3,000."
That is an intolerable load for a handicapped person in a poor country. That is
something to which the world should urgently turn its conscience…….
In Angola, one in every 334 members of the population is an amputee! Angola has
the highest rate of amputees in the world. How can countries which manufacture
and trade in these weapons square their conscience with such human devastation?
My third main experience was to see what has been done, slowly and perilously, to
get these mines out of the earth. In the Kuito and Huambo region I spent a
morning with small team from Halo Trust, which is training Angolans to work on
the pervasive minefields and supervising their work. I speak of "our team" because
men of the Mines Advisory group - or, in this instance, the Halo Trust - who
volunteer for this hazardous work are usually former members of our own
Services. I take this opportunity to pay my tribute to the work these men do on
our behalf - the perils they encounter are not just confined to mines. Two
members of the Mines Advisory Group team in Cambodia, Chris Howes and Houn
Horth, were kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge a year ago and their fate is uncertain.
We can only pray for their safe return…….
Much ingenuity has gone into making some of these mines. Many are designed to
trap an unwary de-miner. Whenever such tricky mines appear, the de-miner will
call in one of the supervising team, who will then take over. That is what keeps
their lives perpetually at risk. It might be less hazardous, I reflected, after my
visit to Angola, if some of the technical skills used in making mines had been
applied to better methods of removing them. Many of these mines are relatively
cheap - they can be bought for £5 apiece, or less. Tracing them, lifting them, and
disposing of them, costs far more - sometimes as much as a hundred times more.
Angola, is full of refugees returning after a long war. They present another aspect
of this tragedy. The refugee turns towards home, often ignorant of conditions in
his homeland. He knows of mines, but homeward bound, eagerness to complete the
journey gets the better of him. Or he finds mines on what was once his land, and
attempts to clear them. There were many examples of that in Angola. These mines
inflict most of their casualties on people who are trying to meet the elementary
needs of life. They strike the wife, or the grandmother, gathering firewood for
cooking - They ambush the child sent to collect water for the family……
I was impressed to see the work being done by many of the world's agencies on
"Mine Awareness"." If children can be taught at school, if adults can be helped to
learn what to do, and what not to do in regions that have been mined, then lives
can be saved and injuries reduced.
There are said to be around 110 million mines lurking somewhere in the world - and
over a third of them are to be found in Africa! Angola is probably more heavily
mined than anywhere else, because the war went on for such a long time, and it
invaded so much of the country. So that country is going to be infested with
mines, and will suffer many more victims. And this brings me to one of the main
conclusions I reached after this experience.
Even if the world decided tomorrow to ban these weapons, this terrible legacy of
mines already in the earth would continue to plague the poor nations of the Globe.
"The evil that men do, lives after them ……"
And so, it seems to me, there rests a certain obligation upon the rest of us……
One of my objectives in visiting Angola was to forward the cause of those, like the
Red Cross, striving in the name of humanity to secure an international ban on these
weapons. Since them, we are glad to see, some real progress has been made. There
are signs of a change of heart - at least in some parts of the world. For that we
should be cautiously grateful. If an international ban on mines can be secured it
means, looking far ahead, that the world may be a safer place for this
But for this generation in much of the developing world, there will be no relief, no
relaxation …… The toll of deaths and injuries caused by mines already there, will
This tracing and lifting of mines, as I saw in Angola, is a desperately slow business.
So in my mind a central question remains. Should we not do more to quicken the
de-miners' work, to help the injured back to some sort of life, to further our own
contribution to aid and development?
The country is enriched by the work done by its overseas agencies and
non-governmental organisations who work to help people in Africa and Asia to
improve the quality of their lives. Yet mines cast a constant shadow over so much
of this work. Resettlement of refugees is made more hazardous. Good land is put
out of bounds. Recovery from war is delayed. Aid workers themselves are put at
risk. I would like to see more done for those living in this "no man's land" which
lies between the wrongs of yesterday and the urgent needs of today.
I think we owe it. I also think it would be of benefit to us, as well as to them. The
more expeditiously we can end this plague on earth caused by the landmine, the
more readily can we set about the constructive tasks to which so many give their
hand in the cause of humanity.