Remarks at The Marshall Legacy Institute's 17th Anniversary Clearing The Path Gala

Samuel Perez
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
The Fairmont Hotel
Washington, DC
October 22, 2014

As prepared

Date: 10/22/2014 Description: Deputy Assistant Secretary Rear Admiral Sam Perez delivers remarks at the Marshall Legacy Institute's annual gala in Washington, DC October 22, 2014.  © Photo courtesy of MLI

Thank you General Sullivan for that kind introduction. And thank you for the leadership and vision you have brought to the Marshall Legacy Institute over the years and for bringing us all together around such a worthy cause.

It is truly an honor to join you this evening as we recognize the outstanding work of the Marshall Legacy Institute and our remarkable award winners.

Tonight we celebrate the courage of ordinary people who prevailed in the face of extraordinary adversity. Their actions inspire us all to renew our commitment to work every day to create a better world.

We at the State Department have been proud to partner with the Marshall Legacy Institute and support its humanitarian efforts to remove landmines from the beginning. We helped launch MLI’s first Mine Detection Dog partnership programs in the late 1990s, and we later provided funding to get the Children Against Mines Program, or CHAMPS, off the ground. Now, 17 years later, the Marshall Legacy Institute has become a premier example of how much we can accomplish when government and private organizations work together in common cause.

MLI’s success has also generated tens of millions of dollars in private sector support for landmine action. The generous support of corporations and foundations such as General Dynamics and The Joan M. Wismer Foundation, MLI’s Gold sponsors for this evening’s event, is making a big impact on the ground. So are the amazing efforts of the CHAMPS program, through empowering young people, raising mine awareness and supporting the Survivor’s Assistance Program. Your involvement, whether through school bake sales or your boardroom, is important.

None of us can achieve the results we want to see on our own. It is only through ventures that unite the resources of the private sector with the passion of the non-profit sector and the reach of the U.S. Government that we can make a concrete difference. And when we cooperate effectively, as we do through MLI’s programs, we change lives.

These programs demonstrate that a modest investment can make a great difference in making the world a safer place. Conventional weapons destruction helps families return to their homes, gets farmers back to their fields, and goods to market. These efforts continue to support efforts to bring security and stability around the world, including in conflict zones.

All of you are gathered here this evening already understand that the weapons of war can keep killing long after the guns fall silent. Unexploded ordnance, or UXO, and anti-personnel landmines, left behind during a conflict, can continue to kill and maim for decades after the soldiers have put down their weapons. Beyond this, they continue to sow economic hardship, removing potentially arable or developable land from local communities.

The United States is proud to have been the leading contributor to global efforts to remove these silent threats from yesterday’s battlefields. We have provided over $2.3 billion in assistance to over 90 countries to ensure that with peace comes safety. In many post-conflict countries, landmines and UXO have particularly serious impact on rural communities, where they are not only an immediate safety hazard, but also keep farmers from their fields and prevent the normal flow of goods.

Over the years, the combined efforts of the United States, the international donor community, affected states, and non-governmental organizations like MLI has significantly reduced the worldwide threat from post-conflict landmines and UXO. There are fewer casualties worldwide, communities are safer, and citizens are better able to rebuild their homes and livelihoods.

The Mine Detection Dog Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a perfect example of such a combined effort. As the MDDC celebrates its 11th anniversary this month, the Department of State is especially proud to have provided the MDDC’s funding for its first three years. Since then, under the very capable leadership of its Director, Mr. Nermin Hadzimujagic, who is here with us this evening, the MDDC has developed into one of the world's centers of excellence for providing dogs to safely sniff out and detect landmines and other explosive remnants of war, as well as conduct training for the dogs' human handlers for deployment globally. MLI partners with the MDDC to provide many of the dogs it deploys around the world. The MDDC has trained hundreds of dogs that went on to work, not just in Bosnia, but also Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Iraq, Angola, Lebanon, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Afghanistan. The MDDC also provides mine risk education to raise awareness of potential hazards from landmines. Tonight, we are pleased to be celebrating with MLI's MDD team of the year – MDD Betsy and her handler Alden Cesko.

We are also proud of the Department of State’s ability to answer the call on conventional weapons destruction emergencies around the world through our Quick Reaction Force. In response to the flooding in Bosnia in May and at the request of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Center, the U.S. deployed a Quick Reaction Force team of three explosive ordnance disposal experts. The team assisted local authorities in assessing the landmine situation following the floods, identifying gaps in assistance and providing recommendations for the United States and local authorities on the way forward. In response to these recommendations, the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs will develop and enhance the capabilities of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Center by providing support to the Bosnian Army and Civil Protection demining units, repairing old and purchasing new demining equipment and by providing funds for new clearance projects in addition to those already underway. I would note that over the last six months Betsy and Alden have been working in some of the most hazardous demining conditions in Bosnia as they worked to clear areas affected by the flood that caused landmines to wash away to new and unknown locations.

It is with stories like those about the accomplishments of Nermin and his team at the MDDC and of the brave efforts of Betsy and Alden in mind that the Administration recently announced that outside the unique circumstances of the Korean Peninsula – where we have a longstanding commitment to the defense of our ally the Republic of Korea – the United States will not use anti-personnel landmines. The announcement represents a further step to advance the humanitarian aims of the Ottawa Convention and to bring the U.S. practice in closer alignment with a global humanitarian movement that has had a demonstrated positive impact in reducing civilian casualties from anti-personnel mines.

For the first time in history, more landmines are being removed than are being planted. The tide has started to turn thanks in no small part to the commitment and dedication of everyone here tonight.

On behalf of everyone at the State Department, I thank you for your contributions to this cause. We firmly believe in the importance of humanitarian mine action, and we will continue to stand with you until the job is done.

Thank you.