National

Slovenia and Colombia envoys raise awareness of land mines at event in Tokyo

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

The Slovenian and Colombian ambassadors to Japan on Wednesday called for more awareness about the worldwide risks posed by land mines by rolling up their pant legs and sleeves in a symbolic show of support for those who have lost limbs due to the explosive remnants of war.

“There are still many countries that are in the process of eliminating mines from their territories, and we continue having new victims every year,” Colombian Ambassador Gabriel Duque said at the global Lend Your Leg event at the nation’s embassy in Tokyo.

The United Nations recognizes April 4 as International Mine Awareness Day.

Over 60 countries and territories are plagued by land mines, and as of 2015, an average of 18 people are killed or maimed by the explosives every day, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Slovenian Ambassador Simona Leskovar brought the annual event to Tokyo last year in an effort to raise public awareness about the difference Japan makes — as one of the initiative’s major donors — in helping to eliminate land mines and in providing assistance to survivors.

“The challenges are still out there, maybe not in Japan, but as a major donor, they are entitled to know why this money is spent,” Leskovar said.

Leskovar said Japan has contributed over $4 million to the demining and mine-victim support projects led by ITF Enhancing Human Security — a nonprofit humanitarian organization established by the Slovenian government in 1998.

What shocked Leskovar following her designation as Slovenia’s top envoy to Japan more than two years ago, however, was that the public seemed to be mostly unaware of their contribution. In fact, most appeared to be oblivious to issues surrounding land mines, which remain one of the most persistent humanitarian issues worldwide, despite steady progress.

“Using Japan’s donations, more than 2 million square meters seeded with 463 explosive items were cleared from minefields in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Leskovar said, noting that the civil war in the neighboring state in the mid-1990s left a number of minefields there.

In Colombia, thousands of land mines remain buried. They were mostly planted by guerrilla groups during a five-decade war against the government.

“We all should be interested in knowing why our governments are spending money, especially for good causes, because it is important to realize that helping other people means implementing human rights so others can live free,” Leskovar said.

She also emphasized that Japanese need to be aware that land mines could pose a danger during overseas travel.

“Both Japan and Slovenia are mine-free countries (but) we all like adventures and many of us enjoy exploring different countries. However, in many such places, there are still areas contaminated with leftover mines — and in some of those places, there are no warning signs exhibited,” Leskovar said.

Calling Japanese people sympathetic, Leskovar said she has “an important role to play” in telling them about their contributions.

Japan ratified the Mine Ban Treaty in 1998, and it has implemented multiple projects in countries affected by mines and unexploded ordnance such as Afghanistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Iraq.