Remarks at the Release of the Tenth Edition of To Walk the Earth in Safety Report

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 19, 2011

MS. NULAND: Good morning, everybody. We are very pleased to welcome Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Hi. I see we have some special reporters here today. Welcome. We’re so glad you’re here. Maybe you can help your dad do his work here. (Laughter.)

Good morning, and I am pleased to be here this morning to release the 10th edition of To Walk the Earth in Safety, the United States Government’s annual report on the removal and destruction of unsecured conventional weapons, and our success in humanitarian demining.

I’m joined today by Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro, who you will hear from shortly. And I’d like to thank Andrew as well as Jim Lawrence and his team in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement; and Dr. Ken Rutherford and everyone at the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery at James Madison University who helped prepare this report.

Excess and unstable munitions, along with the countless number of landmines still buried around the world, pose a grave danger to the lives and safety of men, women, and children everywhere. In areas recovering from conflict, loose weapons increase the threat that groups or individuals might reignite hostilities. And around the world, landmines render thousands of acres of land unusable and literally tear away the fabric from communities unable to farm land, unable to walk safely from village to village.

But we are making important progress. Over the last decade, we have helped decrease the worldwide number of landmine casualties from around 15- to 20,000 annually to approximately 4,000 in each of the last two years. That is still an unacceptably high figure. But the progress we made is due in no small part to the commitment of the United States Government and partner organizations to clear hundreds of thousands of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines.

This report documents the $201 million in aid the United States provided in 2010 to help 49 countries clear explosive remnants of war and destroy excess stockpiles of weapons and munitions. And there are a lot of good news stories to tell coming out of this.

Central America, for example, became the first affected region to achieve mine-impact free status, meaning all explosives – and I underline all explosives – have been safely cleared from areas where people go about their daily lives. Community-based demining programs helped clear over 80,000 square meters of land in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. And the State Department’s Quick Reaction Force helped the people of Papua New Guinea reclaim land for local use by clearing dangerous, unexploded munitions from World War II.

Further, in the 10 years since we began detailing our efforts in this report, the United States has helped destroy over 1.4 million small arms and light weapons; eliminate over 80,000 tons of unstable or excess munitions; and take more than 32,000 Man-Portable Air Defense Systems out of circulation. These so-called MANPADS are shoulder-fired missiles capable of taking down an aircraft, so keeping them out of the wrong hands is essential to protecting global aviation everywhere.

Our efforts to mitigate the threat from MANPADS and destroy conventional weapons have been in the headlines this year because they are of paramount concern in Libya. We have been working closely with the Libyan authorities since the early days of the conflict to inspect Libya’s known storage sites and secure dangerous weapons and munitions. We are now working together to inventory these stockpiles and destroy arms that exceed Libya’s national defense needs.

Now, clearing and destroying conventional weapons is only one part of our work to support civilians who live in dangerous areas with explosive remnants of war. We are raising awareness about the threat of unexploded ordnance so that, whenever possible, we can prevent injuries from occurring. And when they do occur, we strive to help survivors and their families rebuild their lives.

Our humanitarian action includes medical rehabilitation and vocational training for landmine survivors. Forty landmine victims in Bamyan Province, Afghanistan, half of whom were women, recently graduated from a program where they learned to tailor clothes and repair motorcycles. These kinds of assistance programs give landmine survivors new skills to help them provide for themselves and their families, and it also helps reintegrate them back into society.

In Bosnia, our support for the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance has helped survivors regain their mobility and dignity while helping restore confidence among the region’s ethnic groups. For example, OKI Fantomi is a sitting volleyball club in Sarajevo made up of landmine survivors and amputees. They have become the world champions of their sport. And as the team competes in tournaments around the world, they remind us of how much the human spirit is capable of when faced with great challenges.

So the United States is proud to be the single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action around the world. We stand firmly with all those working to address the harmful and indiscriminate effects of landmines on civilians. And this report is heartening proof that when we work together in common cause, we can make real progress, but it’s also a reminder of how much more we have to do.

Our next – one of our next great challenges will be helping countries secure and destroy their stockpiles of unstable conventional munitions stored in dangerous depots. Many of these stockpiles are left over from the Cold War. They’re often poorly maintained, improperly stored, or inadequately guarded. Since 1995, explosions at more than 200 of these depots have claimed thousands of lives in every region of the world. And the frequency of such explosions is increasing as the stocks continue to degrade over time. So we are working with more than 30 countries on improving munitions maintenance and storage to help reduce the threat of these explosions.

Our efforts to secure and destroy conventional weapons combine elements of diplomacy, development, and defense – smart power at work. We work to make post-conflict areas safer and to better set the stage for their recovery and redevelopment. To achieve this, the State Department collaborates with a wide array of partners, from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and USAID to dozens of public and private organizations. The NGO community is represented here, and I especially want to thank them for their efforts. And together, we have helped ensure millions of people can now walk safely across the earth; children can run freely without fear, and communities damaged by war can begin to heal.

And at this point, I’d like to turn it over to Assistant Secretary Shapiro. Thank you all.

Briefing by Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew J. Shapiro

PRN: 2011/2166