29 October 2012

Continuing our campaigner interviews as part of ICBL’s 20th Anniversary celebrations, we speak to Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, a veteran campaigner who has been involved with the campaign since 1994. Yeshua covers research on Asia, the Pacific, the Middle East and North Africa for the Ban Policy section of the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor of the ICBL-CMC. In this fascinating interview he tells us about his work in Myanmar (Burma), and his hopes for this heavily affected country."Lloyd Axworthy, the Foreign Minister of Canada said that ‘this is the future of arms control. It’s not what the governments are doing it’s what non-governmental organization are going to do to keep them to their word.’ I believed that at the time, and I still believe it today." Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwa

Why and how did you get involved with the ICBL?I was working as the regional representative for a non-governmental organization in Thailand in 1994, and with some colleagues we got a flyer in the mail. It was on the Cambodian border, I was running some training programs for them and we got this flyer in the mail for a campaign to ban landmines. I immediately felt this was a campaign that would be successful and had great potential and so I lobbied within our organization for us to endorse this campaign. Back in those days Jody Williams still wrote personal thank you letters to every non-governmental organization that joined and I think we were organization number 174 or something like that. That was 1994. Many years later I became part of the steering committee of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. We were one of the founding members of the Cluster Munition Coalition. For the last 5 years I‘ve actually worked for the campaign in our research department, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor.Do you have a favourite or most memorable moment from your time working with the ICBL?When we started the Landmine Monitor process, Lloyd Axworthy, the Foreign Minister of Canada, who really launched the Ottawa process that brought about Mine Ban Treaty, came and talked to the first meeting of researchers for the Monitor. We had at least 80 researchers from different parts of the globe, assembled and we were going to put out the first report on universalization and implementation of the landmine convention. He said that ‘this is the future of arms control. It’s not what the governments are doing it’s what non-governmental organization are going to do to keep them to their word.’ I believed that at the time, and I still believe it today.What changes have you seen in the countries you have been involved with or working with?I’ve been involved with several countries because I was in a regional position at the time we joined the campaign. Now as a research coordinator I am also involved in many countries, however since the start of that process I have been the key researcher on Burma. Burma has been probably the key challenge country to what we are doing. They have not been known historically for humanitarianism and of course our movement is founded on humanitarian principles. Starting to work in this country was very, very, hard. I received nothing but hostility, suspicion and of course that is a country where change has come very slowly. A little bit quicker in the last year, but very slowly when we’re talking 20 years ago. When I started talking about myself as researching for Landmine Monitor they basically said ‘what’s that?’, and in about three years time when I said that they said ‘ah ha’, so I knew I was penetrating in somehow with the message! We were publishing our Landmine Monitor report in Burmese language each year and sending it to all of the ranking members of the military, and broadcasting it to the people on the short-wave radio services in Burmese language so there could be more understanding of this. I discovered that even some people who were political prisoners had heard my broadcasts into the country. When they were freed I met them and they told me about that. Slowly but surely we created more and more awareness there. Now for the first time I can say that there’s a little bit of hope that the landmine tragedy that has been in that country may be coming to an end.Because of the campaign?Because of two things. The campaign has certainly made more and more people aware of the issue but also armed conflict is coming to an end, and that’s the key thing. What would you like to see happening in the countries you’ve been working in within a 5 -10 year period? There’s not really anything I’d like to see because I will see it, and that will be an end to the landmine problem. I think that there’s a very good chance that there will be an end to the landmine problem within 5 years in Thailand. There will be close to an end to the landmine problem in Burma in 5 years’ time. They will be well on their way to that. I think we’ll see a mine action programme there within a year and their programme is one that if it gets adequate support which I think it will at this point in time, it can be cleaned up relatively quickly. It’ll probably be at least a good five years, but it will be done. I’m fairly confident right now that I will see both of those within five years’ time.What needs to be done in these 5 years?In Thailand it’s a little bit of more political will and in Burma it’s just a matter of how fast they can mobilize towards this. It’s a political question in both countries, but I’m confident that within five years we’re going to be close to the end, if not at the end.