Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 8, 2021
Thank you very much, Mr. President. Thank you for bringing us together today to discuss this pressing issue. And I also want to join others in congratulating you as you take on your new duties and responsibilities as foreign minister. I’d also like to thank Secretary-General Guterres and the other distinguished briefers, for your remarks and your insights today.
A few days ago, on April 4, we commemorated the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. It was a day to reflect, somberly, on the thousands killed every year by landmines. The Landmine Monitor’s 2020 report told us that 5,554 people were killed or injured globally by landmines, cluster munitions remnants, and other explosive remnants of war in 2019. Most of them were completely innocent civilians – and many were children. These tragic injuries and deaths are not inevitable. Landmines are a solvable problem.
President Biden believes we need to curtail the use of landmines. Now, there has been some discussion of the previous administration’s landmine policy this week, so let me speak plainly: President Biden has been clear that he intends to roll back this policy, and our administration has begun a policy review to do just that. Meanwhile, we’re working hard to address the dangers already lurking in the ground. The United Nations, and the broader international community, have taken great strides to address these threats.
Mr. President, as you well know, our two countries now sit together as partners in this Council – and that has not always been the case. However, in the 26 years since our countries normalized diplomatic relations, the United States and Vietnam have developed a thriving partnership, which includes jointly addressing war legacies and unexploded ordnance. This collaboration has allowed Vietnam and the United States to make enormous efforts to ensure that the Vietnamese people can be safe from explosive remnants of war.
This work has paid off. Just looking at Quang Tri province, that we heard about today, one of the most heavily contaminated areas along the former Demilitarized Zone, and we made progress. There, for the past three and a half years, not a single person has died from an unexploded ordnance accident. Not one. That’s not a coincidence. It’s the product of partnership that we have developed. Vietnam is one of more than 100 countries that have received mine action assistance from the United States since 1993.
Our goals for this assistance are straightforward: protect civilians and create an environment for people to live safely. To those ends, we take a three-pronged approach: clearance, education, and rehabilitation.
First, we fund efforts to neutralize these latent threats. Through those efforts, part of the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction program, we have provided more than $4 billion to support the clearance of landmines and IEDs, and the destruction of at-risk conventional weapons, in affected communities around the world. Last year alone, the United States funded conventional weapons destruction efforts in 49 countries in excess of $259 million. And over the past five years, we’ve cleared more square miles of land than the total area of New York City and Baltimore combined.
Second, we proactively reach out to communities to engage them with Explosive Ordnance Risk Education programs. We partner with teachers, with educators. We spread the word through NGOs and social media. Whatever it takes to get the message out to the people who need to hear it, we do it. From Vietnam to Somalia, Iraq to Lebanon, these programs have prevented countless injuries.
And third, we support injury rehabilitation. From offering prosthetics to vocational training, U.S.-funded Survivor Assistance has provided essential medical and rehabilitation services to people injured by landmines and other explosive remnants of war. Across all of our efforts, we integrate women’s experiences, and empower their leadership, to meet our commitment to the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. And that includes the amazing work done by all-women demining groups, like Ms. Nimh’s. And I do want to take the opportunity to commend her and her organization for the amazing work that they have been able to accomplish.
All these projects are intensely collaborative. We coordinate closely with mine-affected states, NGO implementing partners, the UN Mine Action Team, and other donors through the Mine Action Support Group to promote the safe, effective, efficient operation of mine action programs worldwide.
We’re proud of our work to address preventable injuries and deaths from mines; work that is further detailed in a State Department report released this week entitled “To Walk the Earth in Safety.” These projects are grounded in over two decades of bipartisan Congressional support, and they create a freer, safer, and more prosperous world.
And as I mentioned earlier, we’re committed to doing even more in the days and months to come. And in the meantime, we welcome the UN’s support and the UN’s action. Together, we can save thousands of lives, and address this solvable problem head on.
Thank you very much, Mr. President.