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Landmine survivor advocates for change
November 23, 2011

Landmine survivor advocates for change
Song Kosal, ICBL Ambassador and Cambodian campaigner. (Photo by International Campaign to Ban Landmines —
"My message to those people who don't know about landmines is that more of you should get involved to give support to the campaign and to push other governments who are not yet on side with the MBT — we really really need them, we cannot work alone, we need help from them. ... Do you remember the song by Michael Jackson – 'Heal the World'? It is like that, we all have to do something to make the world a better place. That is my message." ~ Song Kosal

(Geneva) November 23, 2011 — Representatives of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, some states not party, international organizations, UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and ICBL members will gather in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia, from November 28 through December 2, 2011, to assess challenges and progress made in the universalization and full implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty. JRS International Director F. Peter Balleis, S.J. and JRS Asia Pacific Director Fr. Bernard Arputhasamy, S.J. will attend the meeting.

With just days to go until the 11th Meeting of States Parties in Cambodia, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines interviewed Song Kosal, from the Cambodian Campaign to Ban Landmines. Here Kosal speaks about her experience after a landmine accident and the need to spread the word about landmines.

When and how did you become involved with the ICBL?

In 1994 the ICRC (International Committee for the Red Cross) came to my village in Battambang province to help people who needed prosthetic legs. At that time I met Father Kike Figaredo from Spain who later sent his staff to find me to ask me to join the campaign to ban landmines so that I could work to make sure that other children didn’t have to experience that I did.

I joined the campaign to ban landmines and very soon after, in 1995. I went to Vienna to speak at the UN about landmines and at that time I was only about 11 years old. They wanted me to help to ask all people and countries to ban landmines, but I was a small girl and I remember being so scared that I forgot what I wanted to say, I was speechless! But at the same time I met Reth and other landmines survivors and they helped me to become strong again.

At that time nobody wanted to ban landmines, they did not agree. But in 1997 we saw that there were 122 countries who wanted to ban landmines - this was a great success! I was there and I was one of the first people to sign the People’s Treaty, followed by many other campaigners and governments. At the time I didn’t speak very good English and there were very big crowds, so I felt worried, but I remember everyone being very happy and being easy to talk to.

Why did you become involved? Personal experience, inspired by others in the campaign, political or humanitarian interest, or something else entirely?

I don’t want to see other children or people getting hurt by landmines like I did. I want to see children be able to run and play and do anything they want in safety – I don’t want to see them or anyone else killed or injured by landmines. I also want to see them have their dreams come true – to make the dream of a safe life a reality.

I don't remember what happened to me when I stepped on the landmine other than what my mother told me, as she was with me when it happened. But what I do know is that when I grew up and got to know myself I came to see myself as different from other people because I have only one leg but other people have two. It felt like I had lost everything — I had no hope. At that time in my village there was also fighting as part of the war — it was a terrible time not only for me but for everyone in the village. 

One time I walked to school in my village about a kilometer from my home with my crutch — before I didn’t have a crutch at all so I had to stay at home but I asked my father to make me one because I really wanted to walk. He made me a crutch from wood which was heavy and very hard to use but I used it anyway I kept trying because I really wanted to walk and this crutch was like my other leg. That day when I was walking home from school I was hit by a motorbike and got a head injury — and my crutch flew into the rice field. I just cried. After that there was really bad fighting in my village so I could not go to school that often, I was in grade one for three years.

In 1996, when I was about 13, I got support from Sister Denise and other campaigners and was able to come to Phnom Penh to continue my studies and school. I used to walk to school and there were some children who saw me walking with my crutch and called me "kombut" which in Khmer means a disabled person — when I heard that word I felt like I was different and it made me sad. Some people think that it's ok to call landmine survivors that word — but for us it really touches us in our heart and I really wish people would think carefully when they use it.

As an ICBL national campaigner how would you like to see states – either your country or others – Push for Progress at the 11MSP?

I hope that State Parties and States not Party will come to the 11MSP and announce the progress they have made and what still needs to be done to achieve a mine free world. I hope that survivors are given the chance to have the voice to speak up about their needs – I want them to feel they can speak up and are supported by all the campaigners and governments and that everyone listens to what they really want. I also want to hear all states including my government promise that they will do a greater, better job of listening to the real needs of survivors from all over the world.

What message do you have for anyone out there who isn’t aware of the lethal threat landmines still pose for thousands of civilians every day?

Since I joined this campaign I have been traveling to many countries talking about this issue and telling people about my story. I met many people who didn’t know about the landmine issue who were surprised to hear about my story and this problem. This is a good way to make people understand more about this issue, so I would like to say I'm very grateful and thankful for the people who have been involved with this campaign because spreading this message is so important. 

My message to those people who don't know about landmines is that more of you should get involved to give support to the campaign and to push other governments who are not yet on side with the MBT — we really really need them, we cannot work alone, we need help from them. Once you know more about this you can talk to others broaden the understanding on the issue so we all can make a better place for everyone who lives in mine affected countries. Do you remember the song by Michael Jackson – Heal the World? It is like that, we all have to do something to make the world a better place. That is my message.

Interview by The International Campaign to Ban Landmines. For more information about the ICBL, please visit their website

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). The ICBL is a global network in over 90 countries that works for a world free of antipersonnel landmines, where landmine survivors can lead fulfilling lives. The Campaign was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its efforts to bring about the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Since then, we have been advocating for the words of the treaty to become a reality, demonstrating on a daily basis that civil society has the power to change the world.

Each year, some 26,000 people are killed or mutilated by landmines, which pose a severe hazard to human life in some 70 countries. People displaced by humanitarian disasters are frequently the victims of landmines during their flight and are often prevented from returning home at the end of a conflict because the presence of mines renders their roads unsafe and their fields unfarmable. The elimination of landmines is a major concern to JRS both internationally and in the United States. 

In the run up to the 11MSP, which is being held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, between November 28 and December 2, 2011, the ICBL will be highlighting the amazing work of some campaigners from around the world. Read their stories in their own words and how they are working hard to Push For Progress towards a mine free world.

Related story: Cambodia: campaigning to ban landmines

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