14 November 2011

With just two weeks to go until the 11MSP, ICBL interviewed Jelena Vicentic, ICBL Campaigner from Assistance Advocacy Access - Serbia. Here Jelena shares her experience from Serbia and calls on governments to take real action in Phnom Penh. In the run up to the 11MSP, which is being held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, between 28 November and 2 December 2011, the ICBL will be highlighting the amazing work of some of our 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.

1) When and how did you become involved with the ICBL?

I first got involved with the ICBL through the work I was doing for Norwegian People’s Aid at the South East Europe office. During the course of an extensive research project I was doing in Serbia and Montenegro at that time, I was struck by how little had been done in regard to clearance and victim assistance in my country, even though (at that time) it had been 5 years since the last armed conflict had ended. After the project I was working on closed down in 2009, a group of us – campaigners, volunteers, survivors – saw starting our own NGO as the only option to continue our activities, and established Assistance Advocacy Access – Serbia. One of the very first steps we took in creating the NGO was to join as a member of the ICBL.

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

Simply, there was no other choice than to become involved; I met so many people whose lives had been affected by mines, cluster bombs, other ERW or war in general who told me their life stories. When they talked about their lives and experiences there was one thing I heard that they all had in common: they wanted action. They also wanted to contribute to something bigger than themselves. They wanted to ban these monstrous weapons and change the policies which see war victims and all war-related subjects in our country pushed under the carpet. With my previous experience working for an international NGO I was in a position to start some activities and opportunities for action. Our NGO is not politically influential or financially powerful, but it sure can, and is doing a lot to fight to end the prevailing apathy in Serbia around the issues that are important for the people affected.

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

I would totally agree with the answer Sister Denise gave: we want honesty and a practical approach. From the context of our country we know that reporting and statements at meetings can be correct when it comes to paperwork and laws, but still do not hold any actual truth compared to what we find in the field. We want the states that need help, to ask for that help. We want states in position to assist, to provide that assistance. And we also want rigorous monitoring of the funding which is given for mine clearance and victim assistance. We want this now, at 11MSP, because life cannot be put on hold. Too many lives have already been wasted and people suffered while hoping and waiting for something good to happen and the promises to be fulfilled.States – my state and others – are in a position to make something good happen, if the people who represent the state decide act. 11MSP is an opportunity for them to do just that.

4) 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?

People need to know that the treaties (MBT and the CCM) are in place, but the need to clear mines and provide adequate victim assistance is still there and it will not go away by itself. Even here in Serbia, which is a country affected by mines and cluster munitions, on a daily basis I meet people with no awareness at all about these issues. They think it is a myth or a thing of the past. Something that’s been banned by international treaties and doesn’t exist anymore. And I tell them about how many survivors live in their own town. I tell them where the contaminated area closest to their home is. It comes as a shock, as the truth often does. But when they do find out about how the lives of others are affected, they are genuinely concerned. It is our job to “spread the word”, keep the issues alive in the minds of others and to get the states to act responsibly too.