Earlier this year, a 10-year-old boy was collecting scrap metal in Bosnia when he stepped on a land mine, which killed him instantly. The mine was planted during a war of which the boy had no memory. Days later, a man met a similar fate only a few miles away. He had left home to gather firewood.
Land mines and other unexploded ordnance continue to endanger civilians in more than 60 countries. Decades after soldiers have laid down their weapons and leaders have made peace, these grim legacies of war kill and maim local populations.
For more than two decades, the United States has been at the forefront of international efforts to remove these deadly devices and to address the humanitarian effects that these weapons can have on civilian populations.
Today, I released the annual To Walk the Earth in Safety Report, which powerfully chronicles the progress we have made in clearing land mines from both battlefields and backyards.
Billions in U.S. Aid
Since 1993, the U.S. has provided more than $2.3 billion in assistance in over 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction programs. Thanks to strong bipartisan support in Congress, these funds provide the expertise and equipment to safely clear land mines and other unexploded ordnance. They also provide medication, rehabilitation and vocational training for those injured by these deadly weapons.
For example, we helped clear former minefields so that preschools might be built in Sri Lanka. In Vietnam, onetime battlegrounds have been transformed into busy commercial sectors. Children were once tethered to trees so they would not wander into killing fields in Angola. Today, large areas of the countryside have been made safe. And when flooding unearthed old mines in Serbia this year, the U.S. Quick Reaction Force deployed to contain the threat.
Our efforts to address the humanitarian impacts of land mines extend to our own weapons stockpiles.
In 1994, President Clinton pledged that we would work toward the eventual elimination of anti-personnel land mines. President George W. Bush restricted the use of land mines to only those with self-destruct or self-deactivation features. In September, President Obama brought us one step closer to the goal of a world free from anti-personnel land mines when he announced that we will no longer use them outside of the unique circumstances of the Korean Peninsula.
U.S. Plans to end Use
That means the U.S. will no longer procure anti-personnel land mines, and we will begin destroying our anti-personnel land mine stockpiles not required for the defense of South Korea. And we will work to find ways that may ultimately allow us to accede to the Ottawa Convention -- the international treaty that prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel land mines.
These steps reflect America's commitment to the global humanitarian movement. Just 15 years ago, land mines and other explosive remnants of war were killing and injuring nearly 10,000 men, women and children every year. In the most recent year for which data are available, that figure has dropped by over 60 percent.
Fifteen countries -- from Honduras to Tunisia to Rwanda -- are free from the impact of mines due to the efforts of the U.S. and our international partners in government and civil society.
But this work is far from finished. Too many of these armaments remain concealed, poised to maim anyone who takes a wrong step. Mines continue to be indiscriminately used by countries such as Syria and numerous non-state actors worldwide. Victim-activated, improvised explosive devices are routinely employed by terrorist groups.
In my travels, I have met the victims of land mines. In Southeast Asia, I watched small children propel themselves along on little wagons through the streets. In Africa, I watched men and women balancing food baskets as they navigated through crowded streets on makeshift crutches. In Bogota, I talked to soldiers and police officers wounded by mines left behind after Colombia's bloody conflict.
Their stories are heartbreaking. In less than a second, their lives were changed forever. Different countries, different stories, different times -- but none of these victims was the enemy of anybody.
We can't heal their wounds. We can't give them back their lives or their limbs. But we can do more so that others will never suffer the same fate -- and so that millions can walk the earth in safety.