Remarks Of Senator Patrick Leahy At The Organization Of American States Commemoration Of A Mine-Free Central America

Twenty- two years ago, my wife Marcelle and I walked into a small field hospital in Honduras a short distance from the Nicaraguan border. 

It was during the Contra war – a war I did not support – and we had traveled there to meet some of the people who had been wounded. 

We met a young campesino boy who had lost one of his legs from a landmine, and who appeared to be living at the hospital.   

I asked him who had put the mine on one of the trails near his home in the jungle.  He had no idea, nor did he know what the fighting was about.  But he did know that his life was changed forever.

That was my first, first-hand contact with a landmine survivor, and I credit that boy, and the lasting impression he made on Marcelle and me, with the work I have done since then to help rid the world of landmines.

It was because of him that I started what later became known as the Leahy War Victims Fund, which has provided artificial limbs and other assistance to landmine survivors in some 20 countries, including Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. 

So it is especially significant for me that we are here today to declare Central America mine free.  That is an extraordinary achievement, for which the OAS deserves great credit. 

And I want to acknowledge Gervasio Sanchez’  extraordinary photographs, which tell the stories far better than any of us can in words.

The United States, like Spain and other countries represented here, donated many millions of dollars over many years, to help make this possible.

It is also noteworthy that every country in this hemisphere – with the exception of Cuba and my own – is a party to the international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines.  I and others are working to universalize the treaty, and the Obama Administration has been reviewing its landmine policy.  

I have urged the White House – indeed all governments – to renounce all victim-activated weapons, which are inherently indiscriminate and cannot distinguish between a civilian and a combatant.

We would be well on our way to declaring the entire Western Hemisphere mine free, were it not for the FARC’s continuing use of mines in Colombia.  This needs to stop. 

I have seen the devastating injuries those mines have caused to Colombian children and soldiers, and the Leahy Fund, like others, is helping some of them rebuild their lives.   

I want to thank the OAS, Secretary General Insulza, the Government of Spain, the humanitarian deminers, and many others who have made this day possible. 

If this can be done in Central America, with similar commitment and perseverance it can be done anywhere.

I also want to recognize Ken Rutherford.  Ken turned a horrifying tragedy into an opportunity, and became one of the world’s most passionate advocates for landmine survivors.  He has been an inspiration to me and to so many others.

Together we have accomplished a lot.  There is still plenty more to do.

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