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 issue.
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
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
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
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 generation's grandchildren.
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 continue.
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
Princess Diana Speech
Responding To Landmines