Archive for the ‘Peace’ Category

UNICEF: 500 children still trapped in Old City of Homs as evacuations continue

Madeleine Kuhns | 02.11.2014 in Children,Peace | Comments (0)

UNICEF, UN’s children’s agency, reported at least 500 children have been evacuated from the Old City of Homs in Syria since last Friday, Feb. 7. Staff on the ground also confirmed about 20 pregnant women were among the evacuees.

“The children who came out looked frail and emaciated,” said UNICEF’s Tarek Hefnawy, who participated in the operation, in a statement.

Valerie Amos, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, attends the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait City on Jan. 15. Amos has repeatedly called for increased humanitarian access for the millions of citizens trapped in the country. Photo credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Prior to the evacuation, UNICEF estimated that at over 1,000 children were trapped in the city; 500 more are still in need of rescue.

UN agencies reported more than 1,151 people have been moved out of the city to shelters or relatives in other parts of Homs, with 456 moved on Monday. The World Food Program delivered food supplies for 2,500 people.

Some 250,000 people still remain trapped in besieged or hard to reach areas throughout the country.

According to UNICEF estimates, there are nearly 5 million children in “dire situations” in Syria, and more than 1.2 million are living as refugees in neighboring countries.

On Sunday, it was announced that parties would extend the humanitarian pause for a further three days.

OCHA Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, said she hopes the temporary cease-fire “will allow us to evacuate yet more civilians and deliver much needed additional supplies. The protection of civilians caught up in this horrendous conflict in Syria is the greatest priority for UN agencies and humanitarian partners.”

Since Feb. 7, aid groups have been evacuating civilians, mostly women, children younger than 15 years, and the elderly. Most of the evacuees were taken to Al Waer, but as of today many were still being processed.

The situation on the ground remains extremely dangerous with 11 civilians working as part of a humanitarian convoy killed by a sniper and

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other fire.

Amos added that it was “absolutely unacceptable” for aid workers to be fired upon, after reports surfaced of UN and Syrian Red Crescent workers being targeted.

“People seeking refuge and those carrying out humanitarian operations should not be fired on. The international community must press for full accountability of the Syrian Government and Opposition forces and demand that the ceasefire is held so that all who want to leave can do so safely,” said Amos.

At a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, UN Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said the humanitarian pause “can be called a success,” but acknowledged the lack of progress being made at the UN-sponsored talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces.

Brahimi said urged the pace of the talks to quicken, saying it took six months of dialogue to reach this new accord of only a few days.

“We all owe it to the Syrian people, to move a little bit faster than we are doing,” said Brahimi. He said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, will join him for a tri-lateral meeting in Geneva on Friday.

“The people of Syria are thinking: ‘Please, get something going that will stop this nightmare and this injustice that is inflicted on the Syrian people,’” he said.

OIF releases first-ever guide on truth and reconciliation commissions

China Parmalee | 02.04.2014 in Peace | Comments (0)

On January 30, 2014 the International Organization of Francophonie (OIF) launched the French-language “Practical Guide to Transition, Justice, Truth And Reconciliation Processes in the Francophone Area” with a panel at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

The first document of its kind, the guide surveys 20 truth, justice, and reconciliation bodies. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission led by Desmond Tutu may be the best known, but there have been similar commissions across the world, including in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) of Rwanda,

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the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, and Togo.

A world map showing all the truth and reconciliation commissions in Museum of Memory and Human Rights, Santiago, Chile. Photo credit: Wikipedia/warko

According to OIF, many countries that emerge from dictatorships or periods of extreme human rights violations engage in a period of transitional justice. Communities then uncover and acknowledge past atrocities as well as punish offenders, make reparations to victims, and reform social institutions in order to ensure that similar abuses cannot and do not happen again.

Truth and reconciliation committees are a component of achieving these goals.

The OIF Practical Guide “provides coherent action for countries in crisis or exiting from crises,” said Christophe Guilhou, IOF’s Director for Peace, Democracy and Human Rights.

Guilhou explained that while the document draws upon experiences across the French-speaking world there is no single template to follow, as respect for differences between countries is needed to find national solutions to achieving lasting peace.

Fabrice Hourquebie, law professor and IOF consultant, echoed this point: “no reference model is imposed and no model is elevated.” This allows for traditional systems of justice, which vary greatly by culture, to provide alternate methods of punishing perpetrators and memorializing victims. For example, due to the scale of the 1994 Rwandan genocide it would have taken the national court system over 100 years to try all pending cases. To expedite the process, community-elected “Gacaca” courts were reinstated, with the power to try all but the most serious cases.

At the launch, in addition to IOF representatives, a panel of experts from Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Morocco discussed their experiences with truth and reconciliation bodies and addressed additional problems that are faced in the developing world.

Major problems still faced by these commissions include lack of funding, challenges in finding witnesses willing to come forth, and the

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danger of disrupting judicial procedures in still-fragile countries. Adama Dieng, Under Secretary-General of the UN, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, emphasized that many parties still have the power to re-open violence, it is imperative to make sure that the process does not re-start conflict.

Panelists stressed that sincerity of all the actors is of primary importance in truth and reconciliation mechanisms. Due to the high expectations of victims and civil society in general, the Practical

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Guide concludes that should integrity and diligence not be maintained, “the process becomes more destructive than restorative.”

World mourns death of Nelson Mandela

Tamar Auber | 12.05.2013 in Peace | Comments (0)

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Mandela demonstrates the concept of Ubuntu (a Nguni Bantu term for human kindness) to a young girl. Photo Credit: Angelica Italia

The news of Nelson Mandela’s passing on Thursday in South Africa has sent the world into mourning. The former political prisoner who rose up to become South Africa’s first black president and architect of a multi-racial democracy died peacefully surrounded by friends and family at age 95.

“The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come,” Mandela said during his 1994 Presidential acceptance speech.

An advocate of peace and reconciliation, Mandela spent his life building those bridges, first among the people of South Africa and then the world.

“I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people,” Mandela stressed when asked of his life’s work. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”

On the international stage, he called on leaders not to turn their backs on the AIDS crisis and spoke out against the poverty and injustice that was crippling the African continent.

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice,” he insisted. “Like slavery and

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apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”

On the night of Mandela’s death in Soweto, Johannesburg fellow South Africans gathered to honor their leader with song, joining in tearful refrains of “Mandela you brought us peace.” It was here where Mandela spent his early years, first witnessing the injustices of poverty and the oppressive force of a racially divided state.

On Vilakazi Street one mourner, draped in flags, said the news of Mandela’s death after a prolonged illness caused him mixed feelings. “I am happy that he is resting,” Molebogeng Ntheledi said, “but I am also sad to see him go.”

Yet while the world may be mourning the loss of a leader and symbol of peace and reconciliation, Mandela, it appears, was rather matter of a fact about his own passing.

“Death is something inevitable,” Mandela told an interviewer in 1994. “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.”

Equatorial Guinea president calls for peace, UN reform in UNGA Address

Tamar Auber | 09.30.2013 in Peace | Comments (0)

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On September 26, the embattled President of Equatorial Guinea took the world stage at the 68th General Assembly promoting world peace and calling for reform of UN “humanitarian interference.”

Protestors outside the UN rallying in support of Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. The men were chanting, “France, stop your injustice in Africa. Leave our people alone.” Photo credit: MediaGlobal News/Tamar Auber

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president of the small central African nation, is currently under investigation in France, Spain, and the United States on corruption and embezzlement charges.

Human Rights Watch also recently issued a report criticizing the Equatorial Guinea leadership, stating that “basic freedoms are regularly denied to the people of Equatorial Guinea,”

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and that social spending rarely benefits the vulnerable, with lavish projects, including a modern hospital and resort, aiding the lifestyle of the elite.

During his speech during the General Assembly debate, Mbasogo insisted that his country had invested in infrastructure, improved education, and were working on development goals to improve the lives of all the nation’s women and children. As evidence of his nation’s success, Mbasogo pointed to an international initiative that will provide Equatorial Guinea’s 700,000 residents an anti-malaria vaccine by 2017.

He also made an urgent appeal for peace. “If there is no peace, there can be no development,” Mbasogo said. “If there is no development, it would be difficult to ensure dignity, integrity, and freedom for human beings.”

During his 20 minutes at the podium, Mbasogo did not shy away from harsh jabs at the UN humanitarian efforts, which he claimed “imposed political systems and democracies on the basis of hidden interests, disregarding the sacred principles of national sovereignty and the dignity

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of peoples.”

He called for the UN to build more democratic systems and return to the work of peace and equitable development. “The UN has still not yet achieved its primary objective, mainly a peaceful and developed world which would ensure dignity and well-being for all people of the world,” he said.

Outside the UN, a handful of protesters gathered in support of Mbasogo and his son, Theodoro M. Obiang, calling for France to stop their harassment of the people of Equatorial Guinea.

“France, stop your injustice in Africa,” the men chanted. “Leave our people alone.”

Dangers faced by children in the DRC

Jessica Karcz | 09.18.2013 in Children,Peace | Comments (0)

Boys collect water in Mugunga I camp near the city of Goma. Photo credit: Oxfam International

According to UNICEF’s DRC Mid-Year Report on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), children are increasingly vulnerable in the country with an overall

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increase of 56 percent of verified grave violations.

The study, which takes place over the first six months of the year, indicates violent conflict has left 2.6 million internally displaced people (IDP) in the DRC. “More than 50 percent of these displaced are children,” said Jean Metenier, UNICEF Coordinator in Eastern DRC to MediaGlobal News.

The report indicates children are vulnerable to sexual violence, exploitation, abduction, armed groups, malnutrition, and countless diseases such as measles, cholera, severe anemia, and malaria. Currently, over 116,373 children under the age of five are being treated for severe acute malnutrition.

In addition, over 2,000 children are being used as child soldiers in the DRC, according to UNICEF’s Monthly Humanitarian Report, released August 23.

“The recruitment and use of children under 18 years of age in armed forces and groups is a crime under Congolese and international law,” said Barbara Bentein, UNICEF Representative in DRC. UNICEF also urged “all parties involved in the conflict to release minors in their ranks.”

In August, 112 children in Katanga Province were rescued from the Mai Mai Bakata Katanga armed group. Many are already reunited with their families, except in cases where they face dangers of re-extraction if they are returned. In Nord Kivu, 228 unaccompanied and separated children were found and documented. 79 of these children are already reunited.

Inah Kaloga, UNICEF Protection/GBV Specialist in the city of Goma, in eastern DRC, tells MediaGlobal News how UNICEF works with partners in camps and communities hosting displaced children to provide integrated education and protection support through Child Friendly Spaces (CFS). “Providing children with recreational activities as well as an entry point into the discussion and referral of child protection issues. The CFS are places where children and their families can discuss their problems and be directed to the relevant services.” In Nord Kivu alone 22,475 children a day are benefiting from CFS.

Overall, UNICEF has been aiding IDP in the DRC for the last 50 years and “as soon as it is deemed safe for the displaced to return home, UNICEF will be there to support these people in restarting the lives they left,” said Kaloga to MediaGlobal News.

Out of conflict, a new push to educate Mali’s children

Ariel Hofher | 09.17.2013 in Children,Peace | Comments (0)

Students attend class at the preparatory class in the Hamabangou distric of Timbuctu. The Accelerated Learning Gateway Strategy school is open for children ages 8 to 12 and helps to reintegrate pupils into the formal education system. Photo Credit: UNICEF/HARANDANE DICKO

UNITED NATIONS, MediaGlobal News— UNICEF has partnered with the government of Mali to launch a “Back to school” campaign, in an effort to re-focus resources on education.

UNICEF launched the initiative on Sept. 3 with a press release: “The Ministry of Education estimated 800,000 children in Mali have had their schooling disrupted by the conflict.”

In a major push to put Malian children back in school, UNICEF declares that the new academic year will commence on Oct. 1, where “about 15,000 pupils will listen to lessons at new desks.”

Since January 2012, the West African country of Mali has suffered conflict due to “military coup d’état, renewed fighting between government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of its northern territory by radical Islamists.” The region also faced crises of seasonal flooding and severe malnutrition. Rebuilding the country out of a dire humanitarian crisis, a starting focus toward stability is centered on education.

“Quality education has been a challenge already prior to the crisis—this among others due to low level of qualified trained teachers, lack of teaching and learning materials, limited studying time for children and lack of follow-up by teachers and parents,” Andrea Bertha, chief of education center for UNICEF Mali, tells MediaGlobal News.

With the support of the Malian Ministry of Education, about 9,000 teachers will receive training throughout upcoming academic school year, specifically during teacher’s holidays.

Bertha explains to MediaGlobal News that training topics will vary based on locations and needs. These include: “Psychosocial support, Peace-building and Reconciliation, Pedagogy linked to large groups and multi-grade classes as well as Care for Child Development.”

Prior to the crises of 2012, UNICEF headquarters in Mali found that standard classrooms saw around 45-70 children housing three or more children per desk, meant to seat two. Conflict not only caused displaced persons, but also resulted with about 200 schools damaged or destroyed. Population movements and closed schools affect classroom sizes for the new school year. Now, an average of 60-170 children will sit six per desk.

Bertha says that many of the schools “have been looted and/or some of the furniture was used as firewood.” Other cases, particularly in urban areas, saw overcrowded classrooms with children sitting on the floor.

Curriculum will depend on grade level and children will be instructed in grammar, language, history, geography, mathematics, science, and moral and civic education.

“The main difference between formal and non-formal education is the target group,” says Bertha to MediaGlobal News.

She explains that formal education targets children aged 3-18 years and older covering pre-school, primary, and secondary education, and university, where non-formal education is intended for children aged 9-18 years that have previously not had any schooling.

Peaceful Mali elections pave the way for growth via “good governance”

Madeleine Kuhns | 08.28.2013 in Peace | Comments (0)

Mali held its second round of presidential elections on 11 August 2013. A peaceful electoral process can help foster stability and future development for the country. Photo credit: UN Photo/Blagoje Grujic

International leaders, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council have hailed the peaceful outcome of Mali’s July 28 presidential elections and August 11 run-off elections as an opportunity for the country to move toward stability and greater economic and social development.

One of the world’s Least Developed Countries, ranking 182 out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index, Mali was thrown into turmoil in the past year after uprisings, insurgency, and a military coup contributed to the collapse of its core institutions.

UN humanitarian affairs agency UNOCHA estimates that since 2012 at least 350,000 Malians have been displaced due to conflict. Currently, 47 percent of the population live below the poverty line, with women and children most affected.

Proceeding without incident, the elections named Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta Mali’s new president elect. This and future signs of “good governance” could lead to greater development and poverty reduction—a point most recently argued by the UN High Level Panel of Eminent Persons in its May 2013 report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

“Going forward, the key challenge for the new president and his government is going to be strengthening those institutions, notably the judiciary and role of law institutions, and ensuring better governance so that Mali can better prosper,” Corrine Dufka, a senior researcher on West Africa at Human Rights Watch, tells MediaGlobal News.

Prior to Mali’s collapse, explains Dufka, the state of corruption was “absolutely jaw-dropping.”

Ultimately, a transparent government, she explains, can help foster economic development and “ensure social and economic rights” for the country’s 15 million citizens, 53 percent of whom turned out to vote—a 15 percent increase from previous elections. Among the masses were thousands of absentee voters, either refugees or those internally displaced, who cast a ballot with hopes of returning home.

The international community also has a role to play in Mali’s development, Dufka tells MediaGlobal News. In May, donors pledged $4.22 billion to help the country recover from conflict.

“It’s essential that the international community work to a) monitor the aid that its given very, very closely to make sure that it gets to its intended target and then b) help Mali strengthen the institutions responsible for economic governance,” says Dufka.

“The last thing the international community should do is give this money and run,” Dufka cautions. “No, I think they should remain focused and involved.”

UNHCR: equal focus on ending death penalty, LGBT violence

Madeleine Kuhns | 05.20.2013 in Peace,Population Issues | Comments (0)

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Maarit Kohonen Sheriff, Deputy Head of UNHCR’s New York Office, briefs media at the UN’s New York headquarters on the International Day Against Homophobia. Photo Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Speaking at a headquarters press briefing on Friday, the International Day Against Homophobia, Deputy Head of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) Maarit Kohonen Sheriff said further work must still be done by the UN and other groups to prevent the execution of men and women on the basis of sexual orientation.

“The death penalty is just like LGBT issues, one of the very sensitive issues that nobody wants to address,” Sheriff tells MediaGlobal. The UNHCR addresses the death penalty and LGBT rights together, explains Sheriff, “We focus equally, but we focus on the death penalty overall anyway because in the UN nobody else does.”

“We cannot promote and protect human rights if we don’t include the rights of LGBT people in this struggle,” Sheriff said at the briefing. Today “is not an official UN day. Its not been declared an official UN day by the General Assembly, and that in itself speaks volumes.”

According to Executive Director of the UN Joint UN Program on HIV and AIDS Michel Sidibe, who also spoke at the briefing, the death penalty still exists as punishment for same-sex acts in seven countries, three of them in Least Developed Countries, and 78 countries still view these acts

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as illegal.

Currently, executing someone based on his or her sexual orientation is a breach of international human rights law. However, Human Rights Watch reported that nearly one-third of the 193 United Nations Member States criminalize homosexual acts, with 38 of those countries located in Africa.

In Uganda and Ethiopia in the past year, where being gay is already considered illegal, political and religious groups have advocated for legislation that would execute those convicted of homosexuality.


As the anti-death penalty movement has mainstreamed, says Sheriff, countries that have abolished capital punishment must now be the force for global change in stopping executions. “Even in those with no death penalty, if you have 78 or 76 that criminalize and only seven have the death penalty, if we get the 70 to change they will come along,” Sheriff says to MediaGlobal. She adds that this kind of political galvanization is important, but so is educating the public.

“People are not informed, they don’t have the chance to talk about it,” says Sheriff. “They don’t know that statistics show that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent for crime. So that’s why we say when talking about LGBT, people have an opinion but not an informed opinion.”

At “Duhozanye,” survivors ask for dialogue on aging in post-genocide Rwanda

Madeleine Kuhns | 04.10.2013 in Peace,UN Event,Women | Comments (0)

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From left to right: Panelists Eugenie Mukeshimana, Daphrose Mukarutamu and her translator, and Nahla Valji at the screening of “Duhozanye.” Photo Credit: MediaGlobal/ Madeleine Kuhns

At the United Nations on Tuesday, a screening and discussion of the documentary “Duhozanye” highlighted the continued struggle of the elderly community to survive in post-genocide Rwanda.

Organized by the Outreach Programme on the Rwanda Genocide and the United Nations and UN Women, the short film recounted the lives of the women behind the Duhozanye Association, a group founded after the 1994 Rwandan genocide as a support network for survivors, in particular widows and orphans.

“Duhozanye” is a Rwandan word meaning “let’s console one another.”

While the documentary sought to highlight women’s empowerment, speakers stressed

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the need for dialogue about how to care for Rwanda’s elderly survivors.

No formal care system was ever constructed by the government of Rwanda for its older citizens, panelist Eugenie Mukeshimana, the founder and executive director of the New Jersey-based Genocide Survivors Support Network, explained during the discussion. Consequently, she said, “We have an aging population that needs to be cared for in a way that we never had to do before.”

“They are almost invisible,” Mukeshimana tells MediaGlobal. “To me its really, this is really the beginning of the conversation,” she says. “I think the government and the international community really need to work on this, and I don’t think there is one way to solve the issue necessarily.”

Mukeshimana explained that elders in Rwanda, where the average life expectancy is around 50 years of age, were traditionally supported by relatives or close neighbors.

However, with so many family members killed in 1994, large numbers of older peoplemany of them womenare living in isolation and unable to care for themselves.

Long-established community networks for elders are also gone. Nearly a decade after the genocide, the neighbor-to-neighbor relationship remains “broken down,” says Mukeshimana, with survivors still living near those who participated in the killings.

“The thing is, it takes a long time for us, the survivors, to truly see. You have to convince me that you are a different from the person who killed my kids,” Mukeshimana says. “It’s going to take time until that trust can be restored fully.”

New challenges in mine-elimination

Cynthia Via | 04.05.2013 in Peace,UN Event | Comments (0)

At the daily noon briefing by the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on Thursday, UN officials gathered for the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, first declared in 2005.

Every 22 minutes, someone in the world is killed or maimed by a land mine or uncleared ordinance, with most accidents resulting in loss of limbs or death. By holding discussions and mine action-related activities, member nations and NGOs hope to raise awareness, increase the elimination of mines, and advance economic development.

Decades of fighting has left Afghanistan littered with land mines such as this one outside of Bamyan. Photo credit: UN Photo/Luke Powell

Paul Heslop, Chief of Programmes with United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), tells MediaGlobal News that funding is often one of the biggest challenges for mine-action.

“Funding is down by 40 percent,” says Haslop, “so if we want to continue the effort and hopefully make Afghanistan mine-free within ten years we need the funding to go back to its previous levels.”

Established in 1997, UNMAS collaborates with 13 UN departments to carry

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out mine-action projects for clearance and risk education. They deal with land mines, unexploded ordnance, and explosives weaponry such as cluster munitions.

So far 161 members states are bound by the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention to prohibit and destroy mines. Areas in dire need of mine clearance include, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Colombia, South Sudan, Angola, and Laos.

Saleumxay Kommasith, the Permanent Representative of the Laos People’s Democratic Republic, also announced the campaign launch of “Voices from Laos,” soon traveling to 11 cities around the United States.

“This year marks the end of the bombardment in Laos, during the Vietnam war 40 years ago,” he said. Kommasith estimates that more than two million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War era, of which 30 percent failed to detonate.

Syria and Mali are now the “new frontiers,” where large numbers of people are being killed or injured by explosive devices.

Heslop tells MediaGlobal News that although he believes the battle against land mines is being won and the use of new ones have lessened, mines and other explosives will remain a serious danger in previously war-torn territories for years to come.