Today is International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, the 18th of its kind, designated by the United Nations to raise public awareness in order to mobilise political will and resources to address what is a global problem.

That such mobilisation is still required is arguably a signal of failure and this year’s theme, Mine Action Cannot Wait, highlighting the half a century of contamination experienced by the peoples of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, is laden with unintentional irony.

Because those communities have, demonstrably, spent decades waiting, as have many others in Africa, the Middle East, South America and Europe.

The over-arching goal of this year’s exhibition and activities, centred on the UN headquarters in New York, is laudable: to shine a light on areas of the world that remain contaminated after many years, and where generations have changed their lives to avoid the threat.

The campaign’s principal message is that the eradication of all landmines cannot wait. Whether it is new contamination in Colombia, Myanmar, Ukraine or Yemen, or old contamination, in Cambodia, Iraq or Angola, clearance must be completed. 

Explosive ordnance contamination threatens lives, curtails freedom of movement, limits access to arable land, disenfranchises communities and above all instils fear and insecurity. It spreads terror, and longstanding contamination internalizes this terror. The most vulnerable are the most affected.

In short, landmine and explosive ordnance contamination is an infringement of the human rights of the more than 60 million people who live with such risk. 

And it is perhaps by viewing the issue through the lens of human rights that we might achieve more progress, mobilise more resources and, ultimately, have more positive impact on those affected.

That is partly because human rights law is much more comprehensive than humanitarian law and humanitarian disarmament law, so adopting a human rights lens means, among other things, protecting human dignity better by appreciating all the different ways this can be harmed or denied by landmine contamination. 

At MAG, people and communities are central to our work and the human rights lens is one that enables us to develop a more comprehensive and nuanced portrait of affected people, their views and needs, and to place them at the centre of our decision-making.

Reinforcing the message that landmine and UXO contamination inflicts horrendous human rights infringements on people – and properly articulating the ways and the extent of those infringements – might also be key as we all advocate for more resources and better compliance with the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty.

Living without fear is a human right. But it’s just one of many human rights denied to the 60 million affected by landmines and UXO. So let’s start viewing it that way.