Pax Christi Ireland is one of the smaller sections of Pax Christi International. Its general secretary, Tony D’Costa spoke of its work during a recent visit to New York to attend a series of NGO at the United Nations. He stayed with us at Dan Berrigan’s community in Lower Manhattan. Because Tony’s work is peace-based, Dan took a keen interest in what Tony told us. Disarmament is near the top of the list of the organization’s goals. Even before the 1997 Ottawa treaty that prohibited the use of anti-personnel land mines, Pax Christi Ireland had been working for just such a law there. That, Tony said, helped to generate an impetus toward the same goal in other countries of a total ban on the use of these weapons that cause death and dismemberment of civilians as well as militants.
As of October 2010, there were 156 states parties to the treaty. Thirty-seven still have not signed, including a majority of the UN Security Council–China, Russia and the United States, though, as Tony pointed out, these have not made use of them since the treaty went into effect. Only two countries, Myanmar (Burma) and Russia, actually continue to use these weapons. “Overall, their use, apart from these two nations, is over because anti-personnel land mines are a taboo subject,” Tony said, adding that “if any country is found to be using them, civil society will stigmatize that country through heavy criticism.”
Tony spoke of gaining a first hand understanding of the destructiveness of anti-personnel land mines during two trips to the mine-affected countries of Mozambique and Cambodia in the 1990s. “In Mozambique, I was taken to a series of mine fields where a group of Austrian military personnel were engaged in de-mining work, using one field for demonstration purposes,” he said. The mines there had already been cleared. The grass was four feet high, and “I had to look hard to see the thin trip wires that would have set off the mines that might have been there, capable of killing 20 or 30 people.”
While in Mozambique, he also took part in an international conference near the South African border. “We wanted all the African nations to become part of the ban movement. The problem, though, was that they would agree to do so only if South Africa took the lead first.” The conference, Tony said, helped put needed pressure on South Africa to change its position. When it finally did, all the other African countries “rushed in to sign the treaty, almost overnight in support of the ban.”
Cluster munitions (cluster bombs) continue to present serious problems, with much work yet to be done despite an international treaty banning their use that was signed in 2008 in Oslo. As of October 2010, 31 states had ratified it with another 75 that have signed but not yet ratified the treaty. As with land mines, the dangers continue long after hostilities have ended. Dropped from aircraft, many cluster bombs do not explode on contact with the earth, and remain deadly for years, bringing death and crippling injuries when inadvertently disturbed. The danger to unsuspecting children is especially grave, because they often see the “bomblets” as playthings. “Pax Christi Ireland campaigned in Ireland to prohibit all types of cluster munitions. But in the end,” Tony said, “although we got a treaty that prohibited their use, a provision was added for the use of a so-called smart type.“ Thus, only a partial victory.
On the home scene in Ireland, Tony applauded the Good Friday agreement of April 10, 1998 as “a great achievement,” one that served as a major factor in ending much of Ireland’s sectarian violence. “We give thanks to the work of the churches and small community groups that helped to bring about the peace process.” Without their help, he added, the politicians would not have been able to bring about the 1998 agreement that was signed on Good Friday of that year. Now, he said in what was once one of the most militarized countries in the world, a measure of peace has come. “In a small country like Ireland, “ Tony continued, “we should be participating in peace and reconciliation processes and conflict prevention, because attempts at resolution through violence are not the way; and ultimately, even if peace ultimately does come, such attempts exact a terrible price.”
George M. Anderson, S.J.